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Plant Explorations: Makers Reimagine a Historic Archive at The New Craftsmen

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Plant Explorations: Makers Reimagine a Historic Archive at The New Craftsmen

Gareth Hacker and Elena Heatherwick May 6, 2022

For a decade, The New Craftsmen has been at the forefront of the British contemporary craft movement, championing meaningful craft that has been playfully imagined and properly made. To mark its ten year anniversary, The New Craftsmen has invited its community of makers—including artists, woodturners, basketmakers and furniture makers—to reflect upon and take inspiration from the evolution and uses of their craft across the centuries. This month, it stages Plant Explorations—a response to and reflection on humanity’s resourceful and ingenious making traditions with plants. Here’s a look:

&#8\2\20;plant explorations'&#8\2\2\1; features work by the basket 9
Above: “Plant Explorations'” features work by the basketmaker Pip Rice. Rice’s collection of sculptural artworks were inspired by a number of string-wrapped forms in the Kew Archives, including a cone from the Macrozamia Douglasii plant found on Fraser Island, Australia, in 1881.

The group exhibition will be unveiled at London Craft Week (May 9 to 15) and includes the work of six makers who are already represented by The New Craftsmen: Annemarie O’Sullivan, Catarina Riccabona, Hilary Burns, Lola Lely, Maggie Smith, and SASA Works, alongside four exciting new makers: Cyriaque Ambroise, Lisa Atkin, Pip Rice, and Takahashi McGil.

archival files from the economic botany collection at kew gardens. the collecti 10
Above: Archival files from the Economic Botany collection at Kew Gardens. The collection is a vital resource to study the role of empire and trade in British and global history, as well as arts and crafts, archaeology and anthropology.

Earlier this year, the makers were invited to explore the Economic Botany Collection at Kew Gardens, home to over 100,000 objects that represent how life depends on plants and how humans have made use of plants for millennia. The makers were guided through the collection by the ethnobotanist and curator, Mark Nesbitt, and Ruth Stungo, a leading scholar of basketry and visiting researcher at Kew Gardens.

a book from the economic botany collection at kew gardens, which also includes  11
Above: A book from the Economic Botany collection at Kew Gardens, which also includes ancient Egyptian artifacts, 40,000 specimens of wood, bark cloth, basketry, gourds, and botanical jewelry.

Working closely with Catherine Lock, the creative director of The New Craftsmen, each maker has responded creatively to their findings at Kew and the result is a dynamic new collection of work that encompasses furniture, lighting, tableware, basketry, and artwork.

the exhibit features the babu chair by sasa works; knap light by annemarie o&am 12
Above: The exhibit features the Babu Chair by SASA Works; Knap Light by Annemarie O’Sullivan; a Kiyome Hachi vessel with Hisaku Ladle by Takahashi McGil, and a Willow Gourd vessel by Maggie Smith.
takahashi mcgil&#8\2\17;s musubi kame vessel ii. takahashi mcgil are a husb 13
Above: Takahashi McGil’s Musubi Kame Vessel II. Takahashi McGil are a husband and wife team with a woodturning studio based in Devon. Kaori Takahashi from Japan and South African born Mark McGilvray combine Japanese traditions with western techniques. Their work for Plant Explorations was inspired by a collection of ancient, cylindrical water gourds they studied while at Kew.
lola lely&#8\2\17;s kabuto chandelier in permission was made from japanese  14
Above: Lola Lely’s Kabuto Chandelier in Permission was made from Japanese mulberry paper and finished with a thin layer of wax to give the shade a sheen reminiscent of a plant’s surface. Lely—a multi-disciplinary designer and co-founder of Wax Atelier —was inspired by the ingenuity of a palm leaf folded and stitched to form a basket, and the quality and finish of a military helmet made from paper— both of which were found in the Kew archives.
using materials sourced from her local woodlands and techniques that stretch ba 15
Above: Using materials sourced from her local woodlands and techniques that stretch back to prehistoric times, basketmaker Lisa Atkin has created a collection of baskets intended for use by a tribe of fictitious hunter-gatherers.
a collection of pieces by the french artist (and professional tree climber) cyr 16
Above: A collection of pieces by the French artist (and professional tree climber) Cyriaque Ambroise, who uses simple hand tools to create unique objects and sculptural pieces from his open-air studio. His contribution to the exhibition includes a collection of objects dedicated to the Japanese tea ceremony, wabi-cha, and a number of small wooden stools and tables.
a series of trays created by cyriaque ambroise in response to the collection of 17
Above: A series of trays created by Cyriaque Ambroise in response to the collection of hand-carved, Japanese Wagatabon trays seen at the Economic Botany Collection. Ambroise has studied Wagatabon tray making—a craft that has been practiced in Japan since the early 17th century.

“Plant Explorations” will be exhibited from 9th May at The New Craftsmen showroom and available to view and purchase online.

For more craft, see:

10 Ways to Display Wooden Spoons, Artisan Edition

Currently Coveting: London Artist Sophie Sellu’s Functional Wood Sculptures

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