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Bold, ambitious and exciting shows, says Trust Director, Jane Marriott

Why Craft Matters, Harewood House

Picture Credit – Charlotte Graham

When we are going through such turbulent political and economic times, we clearly seek reassurance, that hope, and indeed joy, can still be found in our own backyards.

Once more, we seem to be placing a greater importance on supporting local communities; buying local and supporting those who endeavour to make objects on our doorsteps in order to keep skills alive, or indeed supporting industries that seek to resurrect whole communities. It is this and many more questions we would like to pose, in the opening of our first Harewood Biennial and one of our most ambitious shows to-date.

‘Useful/Beautiful: Why Craft Matters’, opens on 23 March to present and explore the work of 26 makers, including three very special commissions for Harewood. It was really important that we did not restrict our choice to those who work by themselves, but rather, that we included the widest range of craft from studios to manufacturers, all taking pride in creating beautifully crafted objects. By doing this, we can exhibit everything from beautiful glass pieces, to denim jeans, to paper sculptures, to handmade ballet shoes and glorious copper pans. We hope this will inspire debate on why craft matters. Why have we become so interested in these objects? We seem fascinated by the way they are created with care and thought, often using materials in interesting ways and celebrating, or indeed, supporting our very local communities. We want to understand how they were made.

Our ambition for Harewood is to create bold and exciting shows that our visitors and members will never forget. To do this, I realised very early on, that I needed to partner with the best people to make this happen. Hugo Macdonald is one such person, whom I met over a year ago, and was clearly the right person to curate our show on contemporary craft. He is a writer, curator and I would argue a great philosopher of our times. He is also clearly making excellent choices, as in the last two months alone, one of our exhibitors, Yinka Ilori, has just won New Designer at the Elle Decoration Design Awards.

Likewise, as a charity, none of this would be possible without the support and foresight of our supporters, including the Arts Council of England, the Crafts Council, Art Fund and our Harewood House Members. Indeed, one of the most innovative ways to support us, has come from a great Yorkshire based firm; G.F.Smith, based in Hull, known for their passion for paper and ‘a belief in its beauty and possibilities’. It is the innovative use of a seemingly very simple material that has allowed us to shine a light on these great craft pieces, without detracting from the magnificence of the surroundings of Harewood House – a balancing act we’ve all thought long and hard about.

I hope you come and see the show and let us know if we have succeeded in igniting this debate, and shown you some of the most beautiful, and yes sometimes even useful objects, as well. We don’t expect you to all feel the same about the pieces, nor indeed that you all explore this show in the same way….I suspect some of us prefer the twilight private tours with a glass of bubbly in hand, whilst others will want to roll up their sleeves and learn new skills as part of our brand new workshop programme. Sometimes though we may find ourselves with our kids who want to run around the house and grounds delighting in what they see and perhaps even be inspired to look at objects they see every day in a very different light. We really don’t mind as long as you get the chance to explore and perhaps to dream…..”

Read more about The Harewood Biennial