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Why craft matters now more than ever by Hugo Macdonald

Why Craft Matters, Harewood House

WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN by Anthony Burrill, Picture Credit – Charlotte Graham

“As we’ve dropped our public lives we’ve picked up tools in private and started baking, gardening, drawing, sewing, knitting, fixing and decorating in earnest”

Anyone who visited Harewood last year during the first Harewood Biennial couldn’t fail to have noticed graphic artist Anthony Burrill’s striking commission standing proud outside the entrance façade to the house. It became a poster for the biennial itself, travelling far and wide across the web and world. It divided opinion and provoked much discussion. This was a conscious act on our part, because it announced on its four sides four truths about the vital relationship between people and craft: we are who make; we are what we make; we are how we make; we are when we make.

I have frequently returned to these statements over the year since we opened the biennial, and more keenly over the last two months. Our first biennial introduced questions around craft: principally why it matters to people, today. You barely need scratch the surface of social media at the moment to see that it clearly does matter. Up and down the country and around the world, as we’ve dropped our public lives we’ve picked up tools in private and started baking, gardening, drawing, sewing, knitting, fixing and decorating in earnest. It is wonderful to see, and communities have emerged overnight, joined (albeit digitally for the time being) by a common desire to make.

Harewood might currently be closed, but we are busy planning our second biennial, which will open in March 2021. It coincides with the 250th anniversary of Harewood – a fitting coincidence and celebration of survival, not just after this difficult year, but over decades and centuries, too. 250 years is quarter of a millennium – isn’t it astonishing that the house has been kept alive and in pristine condition for such a period of history? It is people that have kept Harewood thriving; people using craft knowledge and skills to clean and polish, mend and repair. There is great pleasure to be found in these simple, timeless acts as we are all rediscovering in our own homes. Cleaning books are selling in their millions.

Useful Beautiful

If Chairs Could Talk by Yinka Ilori

I’m pretty sure the surge in craft that we are witnessing is not just about distraction, or filling time, or even learning new hobbies just to feel we are achieving. As Anthony’s piece declaimed in four succinct statements: making makes us feel alive. Faced with our current crisis, life-affirming skills and activities are fundamentally reassuring. I think the baking and planting, the cleaning, the quilting and mending are more than fads or lifestyle choices. They are primal responses, too. They say to me quite clearly that in an era when so much of our lives are governed by intangible technology and software, and particularly in times of crisis and uncertainty, we are capable still. We have basic skills for survival in our minds and hands and it feels good to practice them.

Hugo Macdonald, May 2020