sharing skills and tradition

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Re: sharing skills and tradition

Postby Terence » Wed Jul 07, 2010 5:54 pm

I know very little about the history of craft in Europe, or anywhere else for that matter, so I feel a bit tentative to add in on the discussion. I think in my original post I wasnt really referring to the crafts involving systems of apprenticeship, guilds, journeymen etc. Basketmaking, at least in rural Ireland, was practised by a large number of people whose skills wouldnt have been considered anything particularly special. Most farmers could make a creel and most fishermen a lobster pot for instance. Similarly I think the skills of bowl and spoon carving must have been widespread. For instance (correct me if I'm wrong) plenty of Swedish people living rurally would surely have been able to carve themselves a spoon or hew a bowl. I know this is a bit contrary to what I said in the first place but I suppose I hadnt thought it through fully before I made the original post. I'm finding it quite hard to explain my thoughts on this so I'll just continue using examples. The Connemara farmer probably knew how creels were made in different parts of the country but his creel was distinct and I am guessing at a number of reasons why: He needed his creel to carry out a function - to transport rough material like earth, turf, rock etc. on the back of a donkey. Therefore he may have used hazel, may have given it a semicircular shape and a trap door bottom. But he also felt that the type of topknot he used or the way he cut off his uprights was part of his identity, it set him and his neighbours apart from the man in Longford or wherever making a fodder creel. I am sure in the past people, even a simple farmer, were as concerned about their identity as we are today.

The thing that prompted me to start this topic was my own attempts at carving. I have made a couple of bowls, although not turned, in very similar forms to Robins quaiches, a larger "porringer" and a batch of Swedish looking eating spoons. I got huge satisfaction from making them but couldnt help feeling a bit of a thief. I had used pictures on the web and copied them. My feeling of guilt over this may be due to having the privilege of learning a craft from my mother who learnt from the last in a long line of basketweavers in Carrick-on-Suir. For example she makes the round bases of her baskets in an unusual way. These bases are extremely strong but have their disadvantages too. Although I know loads of ways of making a base I will make mine as my mother does because it is her influence and the part of the country I come from that inform me in this craft.

As I have become fascinated by bowl turning and hope to start turning soon I cant help thinking about what kind of bowls I want to make (yes I know I'm probably ahead of myself there, still have to forge some tools and learn to use them etc. etc.). Therefore I wanted to hear how you feel about what makes your work individual and what sets it apart also. I hope that gives you a better idea of why I made the original post.

Just about to submit my post and have seen forestdesigns latest. Asturias is such an amazing place! I have a good friend who is a boat builder there. I'm going to have to search out some of the torneiros work or even see if I can find one next time I visit him. Just one point on what you said forestdesigns - you have all demonstrated to me how much horizontal transmission there of course was but surely certain things can only have been transferred vertically, such as the details which made your work distinct (and the pride in those details) and also the logic for why a certain form is more functional or a certain material better suited to a locality?
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Re: sharing skills and tradition

Postby Ian S » Wed Jul 07, 2010 7:01 pm

Hi Terence

Yet another very thought-provoking post, at least to me!

Terence wrote:The Connemara farmer probably knew how creels were made in different parts of the country but his creel was distinct and I am guessing at a number of reasons why: He needed his creel to carry out a function - to transport rough material like earth, turf, rock etc. on the back of a donkey. Therefore he may have used hazel, may have given it a semicircular shape and a trap door bottom. But he also felt that the type of topknot he used or the way he cut off his uprights was part of his identity, it set him and his neighbours apart from the man in Longford or wherever making a fodder creel. I am sure in the past people, even a simple farmer, were as concerned about their identity as we are today.


I agree that if you're looking at a traditional craft, you could potentially see small (and big!) differences between what appear to be two very similar crafts. I'm not entirely convinced that the difference is necessarily about identity, but would also have a lot to do with

-what raw materials I have
-what I transport
-how rough or even the ground that I transport stuff over is
-what distance I transport stuff over
-what tools I have

I'd suspect that these physical constraints play a huge (dominant?) part in the differences.

The thing that prompted me to start this topic was my own attempts at carving. I have made a couple of bowls, although not turned, in very similar forms to Robins quaiches, a larger "porringer" and a batch of Swedish looking eating spoons. I got huge satisfaction from making them but couldnt help feeling a bit of a thief. I had used pictures on the web and copied them. My feeling of guilt over this may be due to having the privilege of learning a craft from my mother who learnt from the last in a long line of basketweavers in Carrick-on-Suir. For example she makes the round bases of her baskets in an unusual way. These bases are extremely strong but have their disadvantages too. Although I know loads of ways of making a base I will make mine as my mother does because it is her influence and the part of the country I come from that inform me in this craft.


This strikes me as a rather wondeful dilemma to have! I understand absolutely why you would want to make baskets in the style of a Carrick-on-Suir basketmaker - you have an identifiable (and preservable!) history there, and you have a personal link to that history as well. If however you don't have an immediate link to another craft (spoon and bowl carving), then why not adopt a style that is accessible to you? If that means pictures from the web, so be it.

My perspective with green woodworking is that I came into green woodworking with no knowledge of, or link to, a historical trade or style, and I therefore choose a style of green woodworking which I

-enjoy
-can get the rough material for
-can practise easily

within the constraints of working full time, living in the middle of a city and living in a flat. That's why I chose spoon carving and bowl carving. I would like to have a spindle lathe, a bowl lathe, shave horse etc, but I just don't have the room for them. Spoon and bowl carving is, in contrast, far less demanding on space and therefore fits in with the rest of my life.

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Re: sharing skills and tradition

Postby SeanHellman » Wed Jul 07, 2010 10:27 pm

As has been said before we are living in the age of communication, with ideas travelling around the world within minutes. We have always travelled vast distances, and here in Devon and Cornwall tin was regularly traded with the middle east before the time of Jesus.
If we look at art, everything was a vertical transmission from the master and from the accepted cannon of the time, the establishment was everything. Art should look this way, with this subject matter. Even when painting and sculpture elevated itself above craft into the fine arts, before this time it was all artisan or craft work, humble manual work, the subject matter and style and technique was dictated from above. Then can the impressionists and they broke from everything before, the transmission or ideas being horizontal, with sharing of ideas between artists.
Our history has been very patriarchal with everything coming down from above, from the establishment,everyone was reliant on those above them. Only now are we beginning to move into a western age of democracy, where we have the time and wealth to do what we want. We have now moved into the age of the individual where everything has got to be new and original, often it is the past recycled.

How much did the guilds control what the makers did, was it a closed shop?
With Peter talking about furniture makers, they did innovate and create new styles, but within what the market could tolerate and what the patrons desired or wanted. Surely it was the famous makers who innovated and other who then copied the new popular styles. Now days we have art galleries and high end craft galleries selling artefacts that would have been laughed at in centuries past. Would it be true to say that convention was adhered to more in the past, thus putting a brake on creativity and style changes? Surely it was more about earning a living than expression. When we learn how to do something we tend to stick to that way of doing it.
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Re: sharing skills and tradition

Postby RichardLaw » Thu Jul 08, 2010 7:33 am

Why not start again from scratch?

http://www.guedelon.fr/
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Re: sharing skills and tradition

Postby SeanHellman » Thu Jul 08, 2010 12:50 pm

wow, looks like the sort of thing I want to hang out at
"Scarcely anything is original- it`s very hard to be totally inventive, so I am not terribly interested in originality. Vitality is all I care about" Clive James
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Re: sharing skills and tradition

Postby Former Glory » Thu Jul 08, 2010 5:20 pm

Terence wrote:My feeling of guilt over this may be due to having the privilege of learning a craft from my mother who learnt from the last in a long line of basketweavers in Carrick-on-Suir. For example she makes the round bases of her baskets in an unusual way. These bases are extremely strong but have their disadvantages too. Although I know loads of ways of making a base I will make mine as my mother does because it is her influence and the part of the country I come from that inform me in this craft.


Hi Terence, a really interesting thread you've started here. I'm not going to pretend that I understand how or why some skills and individual quirkiness survive when other ideas and techniques just fade away, but I think as many have already said it must be more to do with commercial viability in the end. If people can't earn enough to eat, then they have to think again and try something new. We didn't always have social security and "necessity is the mother of invention".

But what has really interested me is that you treasure and replicate the basketmaking skills that you learned from your mother and want to perpetuate them. It intrigues me how skill transference in the "heavier" (aka male dominated) work was direct and articled, whereas when women did the training/work it was less rigid and individuality seems to have survived for longer. As an example, my maternal grandmother (born 1900) and most of her sisters were chainmakers working their own forges at home. They learned the skills from their mother (born 1860's) and they taught their children to make fusee chains because their hands were nimbler and the money for small chains was good. The men were all coal miners from age 14. When the chainmaking industry became more mechanised during the wars, the womens livelihood ended, there was no point in passing on the almost one hundred years worth of chainmaking knowledge. They swapped to making fudge, toffee and boiled sweets - skills they learned from their female neighbours. My Grandmother subsequently became very good at sweetmaking, knitting and crocheting, (in her own inimitable way) and passed HER method of creating things on to me. I have yet to meet anyone that works in the same way as she did. The ironic twist to the story is that if you visit the Black Country Museum, the working chainmaker is a man I believe......

Not necessarily relevant to green woodworking, but a history of how some skills are just no longer needed but others are passed on and the main reason I find it interesting is because I am female, with an androgenous first name and everyone assumes that I am male because I restore heavy stuff! And no, I'm not a feminist!!!

By the way Mr Law, I watched the film - thanks for that! (I won't be on the ferry to France anytime soon though....looks much too much like hard work to me)

Kim.
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Re: sharing skills and tradition

Postby woodness sake » Fri Jul 09, 2010 1:51 pm

guedelon was one of the feature stories on Yahoo news this week. I like it. :D
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Re: sharing skills and tradition

Postby steve tomlin » Tue Jul 27, 2010 10:22 pm

It is so easy to pick up a copy of Bill Cotton's English Regional Chair and make your own local design but few folk do.


not so easy in my house and the local library don't have it either but i like the idea of this. any chance you could send me some info on cumbrian chairs, Rob or does anyone in the area have a copy i could borrow?
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Re: sharing skills and tradition

Postby robin wood » Tue Jul 27, 2010 11:32 pm

steve tomlin wrote:
It is so easy to pick up a copy of Bill Cotton's English Regional Chair and make your own local design but few folk do.


not so easy in my house and the local library don't have it either but i like the idea of this. any chance you could send me some info on cumbrian chairs, Rob or does anyone in the area have a copy i could borrow?



£39 delivered to your door here http://www.abebooks.co.uk/servlet/Searc ... onal+chair You would be welcome to borrow my copy next time you are passing. 130 pages on the North West region though heavier on Cheshire and Lancashire than Cumbria
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Re: sharing skills and tradition

Postby robin wood » Tue Jul 27, 2010 11:35 pm

RichardLaw wrote:Why not start again from scratch?

http://www.guedelon.fr/


Seems to be in the news a lot at the moment after many years just doing their thing quietly. I wrote to them 10 years ago suggesting they should all be eating from nice turned wooden bowls, i quite fancied going and turning them on site but they couldn't even contribute toward costs at that stage. Looks like there is more money about now though everyone still working for free. looking good though.
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Re: sharing skills and tradition

Postby jrccaim » Wed Jul 28, 2010 2:59 am

This is a wonderful thread! My own take on this is that in older times, the only way to transfer skills or knowledge (in a craft) was by the apprentice system. You apprenticed to, say, a master basket-maker. You learned to make baskets the master's way. Then you got to be a journeyman, and off you went on journeys (that's why the name). Mr. Journeyman might be exposed to somebody else's baskets, more or less at random. Mr J. might like this new style. So his style might change a bit. Or a lot. Eventually you became a master basket-maker. You then taught apprentices to make baskets your way. Out goes one of your appentices... and so it evolves. Darwin had a lot to say about that.

Nowadays the apprentice system is dodo. Mass schooling, machinery, computers, whatever. It is dead. Oh, there may be a few fingers-of-the-hand exceptions. Japan still does it that way. But not the "west." So we can't learn a craft that way. But we do have the 'net. We can watch videos or read tutorials of bowl-turning, chairmaking, whatever. So what we get is very intensive, very short-time exposure to many masters. I agree with Robin Wood: far too many blind imitators out there. But this was always true. Not every journeyman got to be a master. We imitate, as the apprentice did. Eventually either we stagnate (The Forever Apprentice) or we strike out for ourselves. We have become virtual journeymen, and may someday even become masters. Who knows? Up to you.

No amount of wishing will bring back the old times. So we have to play the hand that was dealt to us. I think, on the whole, we have it better than our predecessors. If we want to switch crafts, we can do it at the click of a mouse :) and do not have to put up with Mr E. Ville, the heartless basket-maker who treated his apprentices like mud. And made them wash dishes into the bargain.
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