According to The Prince’s Master Crafters: The Next Generation (Sky Arts), a new young generation of crafters is desperately needed to halt a virtual haemorrhage of endangered skills, and who better to drum up support than His Royal Highness, Prince of Wales, who is always at the forefront of matters concerning our heritage. The prize at the end of the series will be to present a showpiece to the Prince, but all the contestants know at the beginning is that they’ve signed up to a series of master-classes to broaden their knowledge of crafts. They will compete to produce works in one another’s disciplines.
The series is presented excellently by Jim Moir (aka Vic Reeves) and the six passionate amateurs are to embark on a Heritage Foundation course at Letchworth. It will include weaving and pargeting, stonemasonry and stained-glassmaking, blacksmithing and wood-carving, all taught by some of the country’s leading experts.
It was pointed out that Britain has a very rich heritage of these ancient skills “from basket-weaving to blacksmithing, kilt-making to clock-building, glass-blowing to glove-making”. Generation after generation has passed the knowledge and talent on, but some disciplines are now in danger of being lost forever. “This year alone four heritage crafts were declared extinct and a further 56 [were] critically endangered.” It’s clearly time to turn the tide!
This first masterclass dealt with wood-carving and was delivered by Sarah Goss who asked the six contestants to create a small relief carving in style of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement, with flowers, plants and leaves. They were given four hours in which to complete.
The techniques of wood-carving haven’t changed for centuries, but the very pinnacle was surely reached by Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) in the 17th century, and we were shown his astonishing work in the Carved Room at Petworth.
Unfortunately, it has to be said that woodworm have absolutely no respect or shame! How could those beastly little things gnaw their way through such priceless treasures? Death to all woodworm say I!
Meanwhile, back at the contest, it was very interesting to watch the creative efforts of young people, five of whom had never attempted wood-carving before. The chosen designs were a tulip (I think), a whorled shell with tentacles, a Tudor rose (😠), another rose and an acanthus spray (done by the one contestant who had previous experience). The sixth contestant chose a sun with rays and a face, which I fear did not meet the criteria of William Morris and the Arts & Crafts Movement.
The end results were highly intriguing, and the winner (well, the one who received a badge of honour) was the tentacled shell. My favourite was the acanthus spray, for which the lady’s previous skill and experience did show. But since the shell was produced by someone who’d never done wood-carving before, it certainly merited first place.
Next week’s episode will be based around stained-glass. I’ll be watching.