Heal's Modern Craft Market
Last December, I received an email which informed me that I’d been selected to take part in the Heal’s Modern Craft Market 2015 to be held in their flagship Tottenham Court Road Store from the 2nd – 15th February. I couldn’t quite believe it: Heal’s has long been one of my favourite stores, not only for its beautiful homeware and furniture, but also for its design aesthetic and its Arts & Crafts history. I’ve long been an Arts & Crafts admirer, and have been a huge fan of Ambrose Heal and his work for years. Heal’s has always been at the forefront of design and trends: the word “pioneering” is best used to describe their belief in good design, and what proper craft and design can do to our lives: hence the concept of The Modern Craft Market: a fortnight of furniture designers, craftspeople and designer-makers, undertaking workshops such as weaving, stone-carving and embroidery, to name but a few. So, when I received the email, you can imagine how excited I was. Just a bit.
The making and designing prior to the Market took place in a blur of weeks: Christmas passed, and January came: linoprints were freshly cut, carved and printed, paper phrases hand cut from ephemera and carefully framed, and posters & tea towels screen printed. I live in the middle of Salisbury Plain, so had decided to remain in London for most of the two weeks: it was a deliberate choice, as not only would it allow me to be in store for a lot of the time, but it gave me time to complete long-overdue admin tasks, and more importantly, it gave me creative head space time. Leaving the studio for a fortnight was in fact the most creative thing I could have done!
Having a huge area of ground floor shopspace in central London taken over by designers and furniture makers is a huge task for any retailer to undertake: not only were we as designer-makers in the shop for a fortnight, but our wares were too: and workshops and live demos, undertaken by us, were going on throughout the two weeks, in the middle of the shop floor. The entire shop window was taken over for 7 days by 6 furniture makers involved in the Great Heal’s Bodging Race. Bodging is a hands-on craft which uses unseasoned wood and traditional Windsor chair making techniques to create one off designs: and all this was done in-store, in the shop window. It was quite a spectacle.
The fortnight was exciting on so many levels: to be immersed in a retail environment when one comes from the world of a studio, is hugely inspiring: usually, as designer-makers, we can be trapped in our garrets and workrooms for weeks on end, working to deadlines & orders or attempting to unlock a creative block. It can be a solitary existence too: even though we have chosen to lead a life of making and design, we can be quite gregarious people, so the opportunity to talk to customers and like-minded makers is of course a hugely positive experience. The rise of the online shop too, means that the day to day meeting of customers is gone: we may exchange emails and our websites may pop out automated fulfillment emails, but talking to someone face to face about a design or product is a lovely, and rather novel experience. The Modern Craft Market allowed us this: a space in which to celebrate craft, and to celebrate the customer, and all the while encompassing the ethos of Heal’s: that pieces should reflect the maxim of “Good Design, Well Made”. Pevsner once said of Ambrose Heal’s furniture: “Living amongst such objects, we breathe a fresher air”. Being in Heal’s for two weeks, not only amongst their hugely supportive team, but amongst their permanent design & furniture choices and the other designer-makers chosen for the fortnight, was inspiring, rewarding and refreshing.
Of course, not only was the fortnight a positive experience for the makers: to watch the reactions of customers was wonderful. They came into the shop, lured and intrigued by the sounds of the furniture makers, and talking to customers was evidence of just how pioneering such an event in a retail space was: they stopped, chatted for ages, shared their making stories, and what their favourite crafts were. Most were not surprised that Heal’s had put on such an event: they felt it reflected the brand’s beliefs and ethos perfectly. It’s not often that customers stop to chat for a good half hour: here they did. I met customers who were graphic designers, printmakers, ceramicists, wood turners and artists, customers who worked in office based jobs in the day, but made silver jewellery by night, customers who were on night courses learning to weave or paint. One afternoon, when a few of us were sitting working on our pieces at the central workshop table in the shop, we were approached by a customer, who asked questions about our methods of making, but then insisted that she too teach us something: and she did. She whipped out a roll of wrapping paper she had just bought, and in five minutes, had taught us how to make an origami wallet. “There!” she said, leaving with a large smile, “You taught me something, and now I’ve taught you something. That’s the way it goes. That’s the way it should always go.”
And the best thing was, it wasn’t just the adult customers who engaged with the making and the craft on offer. Children, tired and niggly after a day’s shopping with parents, suddenly became entranced by the pom-pom making that was offered to them, and skipped out of the store half an hour later, happy with their new creation, and thrilled at the new skill they had just acquired.
So many exchanges like these were made: the sharing of creative ideas, methods, processes; the passing on of skills from old to young, young to old, and all the ages in between. And it confirmed my belief, that in our increasingly digitised world, we sometimes need to get back to basics: we need to remind ourselves of the value of making, the value of human craft in production, and the value of talking to one another.
Heal’s welcomed all of us into their store and made us feel so at home: it was a marvellous two weeks, which seem to have now passed in a dream. But it left me with absolute faith in the future of British design and craft; in fact it left me with more than just faith. It left me with huge excitement, happiness and creativity. And you can’t wish for more than that.
The Bodgers, on their final day
Prepping for an in-store Linocut Workshop
Hector and Haddock Wares