Time travelling with Louise Valentine
September 15, 2011

Ever wonder why “they just don’t make ‘em like they used to?”

That’s what flitted through my mind as I entered Future Craft, the exhibition now on at the Anna Leonowens Gallery. As you come into the exhibition, you pass through a fabric tunnel adorned with images of magnificent stained glass windows, elaborate architectural details, stunning tapestries and wall murals—a kind of ‘greatest hits’ of craft and design.

But that kind of craftsmanship seems to belong to a faraway past. Would craft ever again have the level of appreciation and patronage that made such masterpieces possible?

“That’s where we were in 2004 too. It seemed like craft was dying and we were unsure of its place in modern culture,” explains Louise Valentine, the guest curator of Future Craft from Scotland. “What did we want going forward?”

From that soul searching, a five-year research project based at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, University of Dundee in Scotland, was born. Called "Past, Present and Future Craft Practice," the project involved more than 40 artists, designers and makers devoted to the future of craft.

The project resulted in a flowering of craft in Scotland, as artists were given the time and money through research grants to experiment, collaborate and elevate the level of innovation in their respective crafts. One example presented in Future Craft includes the most fabulous table setting—visitors to the gallery are invited to rearrange it as they see fit—the result of a collaboration between textile artist Frances Stevenson and ceramicist Lara Scobie. Other works presented in exhibition include metal bowls, delicate enamelware and interactive media design.

The renewed interest and appreciation of craft in Scotland is embodied in V&A at Dundee, an international centre for design now under construction on the banks of the river Tay. The striking stone building, designed by Kengo Kuma of Japan, is scheduled to open in 2015.

“It’s not just another art museum,” says Dr. Valentine, a textile designer herself and a lead researcher with Georgina Follett of Past, Present and Future Craft Practice. “I mean, Scotland needs another museum like it needs a hole in the head. This will be about design in action, a knowledge exchange.”

Similarly, for craft to continue to have meaning in the future, it will need to be more than merely functional and beautiful, or as Dr. Valentine says, "more than skilful making."

Says Dr. Valentine: “Understanding the innovation agenda is mission critical for craft and design. It’s no longer enough to be creative.”

Future Craft runs to Sept. 24 at the Anna Leonowens Gallery. Dr. Valentine will give a talk titled “Craft, Design and the Innovation Agenda” on Tuesday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. in the Bell Auditorium. She will be at the Anna Leonowens to lead visitors through the exhibition, Wednesday, Sept. 21, at 12 noon.

Future Craft, an exhibition of craft from Scotland, derives from a five-year research project into the viability of craft. "Research shouldn't be kept on the shelf," says Louise Valentine, curator of Future Craft. "Let's talk about it."