Tag Archives: learning

Encountering Wild Things

What to do on a summer’s day with two inquisitive boys under the age of four and a baby aged less than one week? With dry weather promised we planned a family day out at the SouthLakesAnimalPark. Unfortunately the park is just about as far as you can travel from our home without emigrating out of the county. And driving seventy miles with two impatient boys sitting in the back seat, boys who hadn’t slept a wink all night because they were ‘so excited’, seemed to triple the length of the journey. Their constant duet of questions, ‘are we there yet?’ and ‘are we there now?’, meant the stop-slow traffic-jam we joined just four miles before reaching our destination nearly caused mutiny, from granddad. By the time we queued to park the car and queued again to pay our entry fee we were beginning to wonder if it had really been worth taking a day off work. But duty called.


My oldest grandson loves nature, in any shape or form. Curiosity drives him to study the many spiders, snails and wood-lice he finds in his own garden. Last week he came home with half a sheep’s skull he’d found (walking on the Fells) which now sits proudly on a shelf in his bedroom. He loves to point out the funny-shaped teeth still set in the jaw bone and remembers the important role they play in a sheep’s lifestyle. Of course pre-historic creatures are his special subject and he dreams of one day visiting that temple of dinosaur bones, the NaturalHistoryMuseum in London – ‘perhaps when I’m six’.


The animal he was most hoping to see at the SLAP (why they don’t use that acronym?) was a leopard. He’d done his homework and recognised the pair of spotted jaguars curled fast asleep in the first major compound were not ‘real leopards’. He admired the tigers, briefly, but was unimpressed by the monkeys’ mischief and didn’t like the smell of the penguins, otters or rhinoceros’s. Although his younger brother was keen to stroke the animals in the ‘close encounters’ compound and was highly entertained when an emu decided to shadow him, despite its hovering like a primeval predator, the need to see a leopard was burning a hole in Oscar’s enjoyment.


It was a beautiful day and we ate our lunch with giraffes peering inquisitively over the railings while a large family of gibbons ran wild between their feet. And we were still sitting on the restaurant’s high boardwalk when four sturdy rhinos marched out below us to eat their mid-day brunch. But still no leopard!


We’d almost given up hope when we discovered a large shed set aside for quarantine animals. Lying in one small room was a soulful snow leopard, flopped against the railings as if he’d given up on the world. Just as Oscar bent to look closer it opened its eyes. Have you ever witnessed the moment when a child’s dream is fulfilled – his face beaming happiness he told everyone within radius, strangers and family, that this was indeed his leopard.


We later learned that the park have only just acquired this beautiful creature, and a huge new compound is currently under construction, a purpose-built paddock where they hope to join international efforts to save this extraordinary breed from extinction. Oscar will certainly do everything he can to help. 



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Creative Hands


Apparently craftspeople can no longer be considered as creative according to the latest government think tank given the task of Classifying and Measuring Creative Industries. As someone who has spent most of her life working in crafts based industries I am confused. This change of status is based on the idea that a craftsperson is a manufacturer who does not apply any ‘creative input’ when making their wares, we merely follow a set of procedures. However the same paper gives the status of ‘creative’ to desk dwellers like Town Planners and IT consultants. Could this be down to a kind of snobbery about people who work ‘with their hands’?  


My brother-in-law was a town planner. He taught at East Anglia University and during his career researched and wrote several ‘white papers’ for the government. He was one of the team responsible for the Chelmer System of town planning which is used throughout the world but he would never consider his profession as creative as that of his brother Michael, a designer jeweller. In fact Dave considered his work scientific, always based on solid research.


Perhaps it is inevitable that as society develops a sedentary lifestyle it loses touch with the source of its wealth, the core of its culture. Without the hand skills employed in making crafts the Renaissance just couldn’t have happened. Guttenberg, acknowledged as the first printer, began working as a jeweller, and it was through his knowledge of manufacturing techniques he discovered how to make moveable typefaces and eventually print books at a fraction the price.


The first techniques to be learnt by any jeweller are the means of working metal. Precious metals require a huge variety of basic skills, such as drilling, milling, sawing, carving, chiselling, and grinding. Many hours of practise are required to become skilled in methods of cutting metal before proceeding to more advanced applications.


Lost wax casting was used by the Egyptians. An expendable mould is formed around a model that is also expendable, the main substance used being wax or a composition in which wax is a major ingredient. This can be removed from the mould with low heat without damaging the mould. In its place is left a void or mould cavity that is then filled with molten metal which replaces the wax and takes on its former form. Guttenberg realised a new use for an ancient technique and ‘tah-dah’, he kick-started the Reformation.


Archaeologists and anthropologists tell us that fibre technology preceded textile weaving which in turn preceded metal technology probably by thousands of years. It is not surprising that some of the skills gained in using fibres transferred to metalwork, fibres used in basketry are round in form, such as reeds and rushes, or flat strips, as in plant leaf strips, or wood. I believe it is the character of craftspeople to be constantly exploring new methods of making, to experiment with different concepts and designs, but they do not separate the work of the hand to the workings of the mind. A true master does not need to make such distinctions.



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What happened to craftsmanship?

ImageI attended art college during the seventies and graduated as a designer when there was still enthusiasm for crafts based industries, in England anyway. The idealism of William Morris endured in our education system, the belief that something hand-crafted from good and true materials would always hold more intrinsic value than anything a machine churned out. Thirty years on I feel this view has emasculated. There is a strong sense that anyone who works with their hands, regardless of skill, is somehow inferior.


Medway College of Art and Design was founded (in Rochester, Kent) on the beliefs and aspirations of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Teachers were chosen because their abilities were exceptional and every course was anchored in practical learning. For example the student jewellers made jewellery ‘at the bench’ under the tutelage of craftsman from the best workshops in HattonGarden. It wasn’t by chance the department cleaned up most prizes at the annual Goldsmiths Awards in London and was heralded as the best silversmithing and jewellery course available worldwide.


Working on the assumption that being taught by experienced professionals encouraged the best possible working practises the college had an outreach programme which permitted children (from the age of eleven) to attend Saturday morning classes. As a child I was fascinated by all things hand created and enjoyed the opportunity to experiment with many different arts and crafts (embroidery, millinery, figure painting, model making, textiles, sculpture) before finding design was my speciality.


During the thirty odd years I’ve helped run a small jewellery business I’ve seen the status of real craftsmanship slide to an all time low. Not only do people lack any concept of how long it takes to perfect the necessary skills they don’t seem to value that input. And the media doesn’t help. Television implies renovating a houses or garden can be done almost instantly so why not the making of a ring?  


Are we no longer spellbound by a craftsperson’s mastery? Is there no sense of aesthetic pleasure in discovering something of beauty emerge from basic materials such as metal, clay, wood or stone? There is a theory amongst historians that the products created by a society reflect its wellbeing. I have always been inspired by works of fine craftsmanship just as I am by so-called works of art but I feel the erosion of status for hand skills doesn’t bode well for our future.




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Stone Four

Twenty-eight months of pure energy

Bursts through the door at breakfast.

What are you eating gran?

How about we have an adventure, read this book, blow bubbles?

Can we chase our shadows?

What’s in here?

 ImageSeeing the world through my grandsons’ eyes

I am blessed. 

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