Traditional British craft spans an enormous range of specialist skills starting with the rural crafts that are essential in maintaining the equilibrium in agriculture, such as bee keeping, cleaving, charcoal burners while farriers and saddle makers need to be fully versed in the science and well being of horses to practice their craft effectively.
Conservation in paintings is perhaps better known from public exhibitions, but the work done behind the scenes on paper records, ceramics, jewellery and furniture ensure that the fabric of this country is properly maintained.
Churches and Ecclesiastical buildings have certainly benefited from QEST scholars’ loving attention, with new and restored stained glass, embroidery, wooden carving, letter cutting and sculptures. Perhaps the most obscure is Alan Partridge who QEST funded to learn the highly specialised skill of making reed shallots for pipe organs and thus maintain the unique tone of British organs. He is now the last surviving maker in Great Britain.
QEST encourages artisans to push barriers by supporting projects that might seem futuristic, but are using the foundations of traditional craft to create the contemporary. Artisans need those skills as the essential foundation from which to adapt, interpret and create a new craft with relevance in a fast moving world.
Craft has always been at the core of being British. Heritage crafts such as stonemasonry, saddle making and thatching are accepted as a way of life.
Yet, taking these skills for granted does not protect them in perpetuity. In the rush to embrace technology, skills are lost and crafts abandoned. Many scholars have learnt from a last surviving master, such as building a Dorset Lerret by eye; an organ shallot maker and more recently, several are learning from a 76-year old side saddle maker.
Conservation, in textiles, paper and paintings, is crucial if we are to preserve our history for future generations. QEST helps talented individuals meet their potential and thus ensures high calibre craftspeople retain the knowledge necessary for the many varied industries that are reliant upon their aptitude. By supporting craft, you are not only changing the life of a talented maker, you are sustaining our cultural heritage and helping build a future where traditional craft skills will be the foundation of new innovations.