Books: Forge and Carve

From Living Woods issue 52

JUDITH MILLIDGE enjoys a celebration of craftsmanship

Heritage Crafts: The search for
well-being and sustainability in the
modern world
Canopy Press
Hardback: 320 pages
RRP: £24.99
ISBN: 978-1909414655

What do a coracle-maker, a
broom-maker and knifemaker
have in common?

Answer: they are all practitioners
of traditional crafts that are officially
endangered. The Heritage Crafts
Association lists 212 crafts that
once supported everyday life and
are now dying out – this arises from
a lack of apprentices willing to learn
the painstaking skills involved and
the fact that most things can now
be made more cheaply by machine,
probably from plastic. At a time when
a number of heritage crafts are in
danger of disappearing, this handsome
tome is a welcome reminder that it is
not all bad news.

Forge and Carve celebrates traditional
crafts by interviewing 18 crafts people
from 15 crafts, photographing their
work and workplaces, and asking
them how they survive in a world
more attuned to digital downloads
than creating enduring items made
from natural resources such as wood,
leather or clay.

From blacksmiths to basket-makers
and cordwainers to coracle-makers,
it’s a fascinating study of talented
and dedicated individuals who share
a common aspiration of reviving or
maintaining traditional knowledge of
ancient techniques. At least nine of
these crafts involve wood.

For those, like me, who have only
the vaguest idea of exactly how much
work goes into producing a handmade
chair, this book is more than just
a decorative homage to talented
craftsmen and women. Each section
focuses on an individual creator, with
biographical details about how they
came to learn their particular skills and
what motivates them.

Uniquely, this book provides not
only an overview of each process, it
also details the crafters’ workspaces
and tools, complete with beautiful
photographs. Several talk about the
joy of combining traditional techniques
with a modicum of modern
technology – and that is exactly how
most crafts have survived and evolved
over the centuries. ‘I try to blend the
best of the past and the present in
my work . . . the working principles of
a lathe is not very different to a fire
drill used in the Stone Age . . . But I
would really miss the electric motor
of my lathe – I find that it saves time
and physical energy,’ says woodturner
Franz Josef Keilhoffer.

As well as providing a wealth of
information about traditional crafts,
and often a step-by-step guide to
creating, say, a knife or a turned
wooden bowl, this book provides
an insight into the minds of people
who have chosen doggedly to
pursue a career and lifestyle a little
out of the ordinary. Peter Faulkner,
a master coracle-maker from
Herefordshire who uses hazel wands
for the structure of his boats, says, ‘My
business motto is liberatus et pulcritudo
– freedom and beauty – which is
essentially what a coracle represents.’

A celebration of enduring
craftsmanship, Forge and Craft is a joy
to read. The title not only describes
the actions necessary for so many
crafts, but also represents the career
path of the crafts people who forge
their way through the world and
provide an inspiration to us all.