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Radical Acts: Modern Craft for Social Good at a Georgian Estate

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Radical Acts: Modern Craft for Social Good at a Georgian Estate

June 29, 2022

In the 1770s, when Thomas Chippendale was putting the finishing touch on the furnishings at Harewood House, the Robert Adam-designed estate in Yorkshire represented the height of Georgian chic. The property is again in the design vanguard: now run as a museum and educational charitable trust, its gilded rooms and Capability Brown gardens are currently the stage for a probing exhibit.

Hugo MacDonald, curator of Harewood’s current biennial, set out to answer the question: “How can craft be a radical act, helping us to address social and environmental issues in contemporary life?”  His show, on view through August 29, presents answers from 16 designers, artists, and makers. “Each participant tackles an issue of modern life: human connection, social justice and equality, climate change and conservation, material potential and natural resources, land use and landfill,” says MacDonald. The work is presented in the company of Harewood’s well-preserved finery: Chippendale, meet your contemporary counterparts—and a new case for the importance of handwork as a way of life.

work on the house began in \1759 and took \13 years to complete. it was commiss 9
Above: Work on the house began in 1759 and took 13 years to complete. It was commissioned by Edwin Lascelles, a nobleman and MP whose inherited fortune is now being reckoned with: “Harewood was built on income raised by the Lascelles family through the sugar and Transatlantic slave trade in the West Indies,” writes trust director Jane Marriott. “Harewood House Trust continues to reimagine the country house for the 21st century,” says MacDonald.

In addition to the show, Harewood is staging related events, such as a Why Craft Matters symposium June 30-July 1, and Make It lessons July 2-3 in blacksmithing, woodcarving, and how to build a three-legged stool.

celebrated young uk designer/artist mac collins created a domino table for the  10
Above: Celebrated young UK designer/artist Mac Collins created a domino table for the drawing room where men once retreated after dinner. Set before a portrait of Edwin Lord Harewood, Collins’ piece, Open Code, draws on his Jamaican heritage and attempts to give the people who helped create and run Harewood a place in the room. “As someone who comes from a dual heritage, half-Jamaican and half-English,” he notes, “it’s not ridiculous to think that my own family, and my own direct lineage, may have been linked to the family here.”

Collins asks viewers to consider “what Harewood House represents in a way that runs deeper than the surface gilding and luxurious textiles. Acknowledge how the wealth of this estate was amassed from the West Indian slave trade, and respect the significance of the Caribbean community to our British story.” Collins talks about the Harewood project in a short film produced for the exhibit.

fernando laposse is a central saint martins trained product designer who specia 11
Above: Fernando Laposse is a Central Saint Martins-trained product designer who specializes in putting natural materials, such as loofa, to eye-opening uses. Since 2016, Laposse has been working with a farming community in Tonahuixtla, Mexico, reintroducing heirloom corn crops to fields decimated by industrial agricultural. In addition to reviving regenerative farming, he has been teaching a no-waste approach by turning the husks into Totomoxtle, a veneer for furniture and surfaces: shown here is a panel of corn husk marquetry showcasing the natural color range.

Hear Laposse talk about his work in the Radical Acts podcast.

maria speake and adam hills of london architectural salvage showroom and design 12
Above: Maria Speake and Adam Hills of London architectural salvage showroom and design studio, Retrouvius, created Leftovers, dining table leaves made from reclaimed wood.

“Reuse is not a trend,” they write, “it is an innately human principle that we have only recently neglected.” Go to the Radical Acts podcast to hear the couple discuss their practice, and check out more of their work on our site: 8 Retrouvius Bathroom Designs Featuring Reclaimed Components and A Rustic Townhouse Remodel By London’s Masters of Salvage.

during a residency at harewood, textile artist celia pym asked the estate&# 13
Above: During a residency at Harewood, textile artist Celia Pym asked the estate’s employees to bring her a favorite garment in need of repair. The results of her handiwork are on view in the Old Library.

“Mending,” Pym says, “is not just about fixing something, it is also an act of care. The item has a new life, perhaps even a better one.” Hear more from Pym in the Radical Acts’ podcast.

good foundations international of dodgeville, wisconsin, the american contribut 14
Above: Good Foundations International of Dodgeville, Wisconsin, the American contributor to the show, is represented by a ceramic water filter. A global nonprofit, Good Foundations partners with communities to provide clean water. “We help dig for clay, build kilns, and teach how to make ceramic water filters, an ancient technology that filters around 99.8 percent of water-borne diseases.”
design star ilse crawford partnered with barcelona based rug company nanimarqui 15
Above: Design star Ilse Crawford partnered with Barcelona-based rug company Nanimarquina to make textiles that are satisfying for both makers and users.

Their Well-being Collection, on view in the yellow drawing room, is the result of asking weavers and other producers what would have the greatest impact on their welfare. “They answered: local materials, local supply chains, no dye, and no bleach.” Each piece, from hammock to throw blanket, celebrates “the individual character that is a powerful consequence of craft.”

furniture maker sebastian cox, best known to remodelista readers as the designe 16
Above: Furniture maker Sebastian Cox, best known to Remodelista readers as the designer of deVol’s Cox Kitchen, runs a zero-waste London design studio and workshop. His basket-style Sylvascope is a platform for surveying woodland management.

The author of a manifesto advocating “nature-first land and resource use,” Cox notes that “cutting trees can be more useful than just planting them. When we fell trees and let light in to the woodland floor, other plants, insects, mammals, and birds can thrive.” Cox explains more in a Radical Acts video short.

&#8\2\20;each project is a conscious challenge to the status quo—a c 17
Above: “Each project is a conscious challenge to the status quo—a conviction that we have knowledge at our fingertips that can help us,” writes MacDonald. “Innovation is not always the answer.” Go to Radical Acts at Harewood.org to see more.

More design inspiration from museums:

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