I have massive respect for crafts people.
Pursuing an apprenticeship to properly learn a craft from an experienced older hand, though often long, is essential. We must do all we can to preserve the ancient skills learned through these communal efforts and to ensure that Government, the Arts and Design worlds encourage and reward those willing to continue their education to acquire these skills.
My worry is that the older crafts are dying out not because of lack of appreciation or market. It seems that failures in delivery systems, too much pressure on price and/or a too high expectation from a quick turnaround economy have marginalised these practiced and careful arts and those who pursue them.
Seeing the results of their concentrated skills, of their hands and minds creating beautiful objects – be they for practical, aesthetic or purely functional reasons – is simply inspirational.
At vital part of the whole process of design and manufacture are the skills learned in exploring the techniques of the traditional crafts and, I’d argue, that those skills and disciplines acquired are easily referable to other manufacturing processes.
We all have to do what we can to improve the quality of the supply chains. I believe that there are willing purchasers around the quickly accessed on-line buying world who are ready to pay a fair retail price for fine craftsmanship. Perceived challenges of ensuring consistent supply and quality control are processes that, I suspect, are actually already well under control.
I want to use some of the groundswell of interest in what we are doing at http://www.Aestheticons.com to support initiatives to raise the profile of the traditional crafts and to deliver some contemporary solutions aimed at assisting the processes of those who are so engaged in demonstrating them.
Jonny Kinead – Luthier, Master Craftsman Guitar Maker
In addition to being a major part of your DNA cocktail, a Dad’s own passions often have life long lasting effect on their offspring.
Something as simple as influencing your choice of football team or sharing a favourite hobby such as fly-fishing is not unusual. However, for Jonny Kinkead (pronounced “Kinkade”) and his brother, their Father’s passion for building wooden models and maintaining sharp chisels – he’d trained as an apprentice toolmaker – fuelled a life long passion.
If this were a quiz show many would struggle to answer the question “What craft is practised by a luthier?”
A luthier (which derives from the French word ‘luth’ for lute) is someone who builds and repairs stringed instruments. With the demand for lutes not as strong as in bygone years the term has evolved to include guitar and violinmakers.
Surrounded by the spoke shaves, the curls of planed timber and a number of brown storage boxes each holding a vital element of the guitar making process, Jonny confesses to being hooked on the twang of guitars around the age of 11.
Since 1970, when Jonny, aged just 16, produced his first guitar, quality has been his mantra. The choices of timber and their resulting shaping into the familiar curves of a guitar give Jonny a wide pallet from which he produces pieces that look and sound truly amazing. Today, his Bristol based, Kinkade Guitars, attracts worldwide demand as his products are simply amongst the World’s most prestigious handcrafted acoustic guitars.
Training in architecture at Kingston Polytechnic, tightened his precision and eye for detail – he is also a very proficient watercolourist. His guitars are completely made by hand and he works very closely with his customers as to choice of timber – including spruce, rosewood, walnut, mahogany and maple – and a range of custom options.
The joy he derives from the craft in which he now excels is a wonderful testament to the aesthetic beauty of his finished products. He still experiences an almost child-like wonder upon being asked to repair a guitar he made perhaps twenty plus years ago. He invests a huge amount of love and dedication into the conversion of timbers into guitars. The patinas of age and use have assured him that his products will live as a legacy to their creator long after he’s gone.
A unique feature of Kinkade guitars is their solid wood scratch plate below the hole of the sound box – this usually comprises of a thin slice of walnut.
Jonny’s book “Build Your Own Acoustic Guitar” is a distillation of his more than 30 years of experience in which he explores his obsession with perfection and detail and contains beautiful photos of some of his creations.
The Kinkade range includes several sizes of steel string acoustic guitars – in six or twelve string versions – as well as hand-carved arch top jazz and fine electro-acoustic guitars. Named after the surrounding districts of Bristol, Jonny’s guitars can be totally personalised.
For more information, please complete our Contact section and we’d be delighted to tell you more about Jonny’s amazing instruments.
Please see below the excellent film – here by courtesy of Falcon Productions – “Tales of Forgotten Crafts – The Guitar Maker”
Robin Wood – Traditional Wood Turning
When I was at school pre-O levels one of the elements of the scholastic week that I really enjoyed was our time in the Woodwork shop.
Overseen by a reliable older teacher dressed in a long brown workshop coat – probably with a breast pocket full of triangular pencils – I forget his real name but I think we all called him “Sid”. I suspect he was a retired carpenter who wasn’t there to teach as any form of an academic subject. His role, at which he was unassumingly brilliant at, was to impart the wonders of working with wood and in so doing he sparked a life long affection for this beautiful material.
The Woodwork shop had a vaulted glass ceiling that echoed to the whirl and clatter of a series of old electric lathes, I say “old” as they probably pre-dated me by thirty plus years making them nearly over forty in the late 1970’s. We’d be taught to centre the wood on a spike which had a back plate that we screwed into the wood making it firm for turning. We’d be shown how to sharpen chisels to achieve a desired cut. After the Master has placed the blank in the lathe we then be shown how to rest the chisel and work it to cut into the timber. There was minimal Heath & Safety input but we probably had perspex glasses borrowed from the Chemistry lab.
Sometime around half-term we be the proud owner of a four and a half inch diameter freshly beeswaxed bowl which our Mother’s would then fill with peanuts and offer them at drinks parties to admiring friends who’d remark on the quality of the bowl.
Aged 14 I came top in the year end exams in two subjects, Woodwork and Religion. Shrugging off the suggestions of a Second Coming, to this day I have loved wood, particularly turned wood, and have sourced all manner of examples including spindles for chair back, table legs and stair bannisters.
What I have never attempted is to operate a manual lathe – indeed until recently I didn’t know that they existed but exist they do and they are seeing a revival in the craft of Traditional Turning one of its best exponents is a very engaging chap from Sheffield named Robin Wood – yes, seriously!
Robin, who holds an MBE – awarded in 2014 for services to Heritage Crafts and Skills – is a master wood turner who for the last 20 years has been making wooden bowls, plates and utensils on a simple foot powered lathe. His products, if respected and treat with some care last and age beautifully. His extensive studies have influence his design and techniques.
Fuelled by a simple mantra of “Never to do a day’s work he did not enjoy” it was the experience of working close to nature with the National Trust that introduced Robin to traditional woodland crafts and ignited his and he started to make spoons and bowls bringing “a little quiet beauty into everyday life”.
Robin was inspired by the work of George Lailey, who died in 1958. He was last person in England to make his living turning wooden bowls on a foot powered pole lathe. Seeing the great beauty in the simplicity of the craft Robin sought to revive the technique. His first task was to learn how to create the cutting tools required which involved him training as a blacksmith. It has become a source of some pride that no sandpaper is used and the smoothness of the finish is achieve by the sharpest of tools.
Clearly evangelical about the simple pleasure and satisfaction to be achieved from wood turning Robin teaches and also, in addition to hang his own tools, make tools for others help others learn to carve.
Robin has assured us despite the bitter weather that he is hard at work restoring his stock of bowls – but it will take some time. So for those wishing to make a purchase please be patient. Please complete the Contact section of our site
In this film, Robin can be seen at work in his idyllic outbuilding/studio. Enjoy!
Film used by kind permission of Artisan Media/Images courtesy of Robin Wood
Jeremy Atkinson – The Last English Clog maker
There is a quite confidence that comes from knowing exactly what you are doing.
Jeremy Atkinson is a highly skilled and time-served craftsman who is also lamentably described as the last – no play on words here – maker of English traditional bespoke clogs, a craft going back to Roman times.
Based in the Hereford, Jeremy turns “green” unseasoned timber – sycamore, birch, cherry and alder into the soles of really very beautiful shoes with wooden soles – classically designed English clogs. Perhaps unsurprisingly Jeremy is also a skilled at cutting, dyeing and stitching leather uppers.
Having first split the timber with a froe, the half log is marked with the desired bespoke foot pattern and is then taken through a cutting process which sees Jeremy exert some force to manipulate a three foot long oversized cut-throat tool called a “blocker” or “stock knife” to slice the wooden blank to gradually take the shape of a sole.
The “blocker” is pivoted from the bench via a hook and eye arrangement so that Jeremy applies purchase with his right hand guiding the blade with pin-point accuracy where he want the cuts to be made.
Finer adjustments to the instep, cast and camber of the sole are achieved with two more swivel blade tools, the hollower for the footbed and the gripper for the welt ledge in which the upper is nailed.
The upper is shaped over a wooden last and then lightly tacked to the wooden sole prior to a final fitting with the client – if they are able to visit.
The finished clog is completed with a brass toe piece and either clog irons – similar to horse shoes – or a rubber sole – clogs have a particularly good reputation wherever it’s wet underfoot.
Jeremy has been taught his craft, one that has experienced great longevity in the many regions of the United Kingdom and he travels extensively demonstrating his skills and picking up ideas for his continued work.
Given the physical nature of the work his wrists bear the brunt of the repetitive slicing of the “blocker” and he is worried that he may only have a few more years left in the craft.
Jeremy notes that a number of satisfied customers have used his clogs successfully to provide support for poor feet and in the management of painful foot conditions.
He’s not particularly sentimental about his unwilling role as the last in England to pursue this centuries old craft but he is realistic and in part doing his best to impart his skills having taught Geraint Parfitt (based in Wales).
The struggle to obtain recognition for the social and economic value of crafts and their exponents may well have a quiet champion in Jeremy who in the film below notes that in other parts of Europe people are given state funding to ensure that these crafts do not die out.
I for one would be willing to work much more closely with the Heritage Crafts Association – of which the Prince of Wales is the President – to see what can be done to harness both respect and funding for these legacy crafts.We are becoming increasingly involved in an effort to raise the profile of these crafts and through us I want to market and hopefully sell the work of craftsmen like Jeremy.
Please complete our Contact section so that we can introduce you to the more of the amazing products made with great affection and skill by Jeremy and his colleague.