Thursday, 29 August 2013

The National Centre for Craft and Design celebrates its 10th anniversary (Part One)

The History and Origins of the National Centre for Craft and Design in Sleaford 

This year The National Centre for Craft and Design celebrates its 10th anniversary. In July, I attended the celebrations with my son; I especially enjoyed the current ‘Growing’ exhibition and joined in many of the “Make and Take” activities that were available to visitors.

The title of the exhibition got me thinking about how artists develop over time. One of the activities was a quiz which ran through the building, one of the questions being, “What did the building used to be?” My knowledge of the building extends as far as I remembered being told that it used to be a seed factory. The old adage sprung to mind, “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow”.

So how did this humble seed factory find it’s way to becoming such a strategic focal point for the Crafts Industry in Great Britain?

The PeaRooms (Image by Finnur Hannard)
It started life as The Pearoom in Heckington which was built in 1870 by the Great Northern Railway Company and shortly afterwards leased to the internationally renowned seed firm of Charles Sharpe of Sleaford. Locally grown peas were brought to the Pearoom by horse and cart with peas from further afield being delivered by rail for sorting and then exporting. It was used in this manor right up until 1961.

In the 1970s, with the help of Government grants, fundraising activities, hard work by many volunteers and leadership by the Heckington Village Trust, the Pearoom was converted into a heritage, craft and tourism centre for the village. It was operated by the Village Trust, a team of dedicated volunteers, until a licence was granted by the trust for North Kesteven District Council. Thus began an important relationship between the local council and craft makers and designers.

When the lease expired a decision of what to do with the craft centre needed to be taken. The chosen option was to move the centre and to develop the old Hubbard and Phillips Seed Warehouse in Sleaford, which was disused and in poor condition. The building had been used by the same company since 1890 and finally closed it’s doors in 1972.

The approach taken by the architect, Frank Shaw Associates has been sympathetic and reflects the industrial heritage of the old building. Leaving the original exposed steel work combined with the use of modern materials such as the stainless steel architraves and lighting panels in the main gallery to reflect the building’s past. 

The Building formed one of the major redevelopment projects of the seven years Sleaford Pride Regeneration that began in 1996. On 7th October 2003, the building was opened officially by The Princess Royal and so became the largest dedicated contemporary craft exhibition gallery in England had been created. It was recognised as a nationally significant development by the Arts Council of England in 2003.

Some say the title for the building was taken from the Hubbard’s family name to commemorate the building’s origins. “The Hub” as it was formerly known, was a significant part of the very successful Sleaford Pride project, as it was the “Hub” of Sleaford Pride. Over the years, the term “Hub” has been used in many different concepts, transport hub, university hub and it was felt that perhaps the title was no longer relevant to the continual development of this contemporary craft venue.

In 2011, the building changed its title to The National Centre for Craft and Design thus marking the changes. Amongst the changes a number of new partnerships formed including linking the NCCD with the Design Factory, an organization that “promotes artistic integrity, raises the standard of craft and design and commercially supports and develops the very best designer/makers in craft practice today” and LOV Lincolnshire One Venues. 

From humble beginnings, the origins of the Pearoom and the old Hubbarb and Phillips seed factory will certainly not be forgotten. There is one phrase that greets visitors on entering the building:-

 “This used to be a seed warehouse it still is” 


The National Centre for Craft and Design celebrates its 10th anniversary (Part Two)

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Applying for the Re: view Bursary wasn't such a breeze

Bursaries of £500-£1,000 designed to support the critical and artistic development of visual and applied artists - assisting them to move their practice forward.

Initially, I wasn’t going to apply for it. I read the advertisement, scratched my head and thought, “Why, would I or how could I review myself” Since graduating in 2008 I’d been a one women band doing pretty much everything myself with just the basics. This included things like photography, website management, marketing, advertising, bookkeeping and all self taught. You see, I come from a background of Make Do and Mend and this makes you very ingenious at making things happen using very little money. I always look out for free opportunities in training and advice, learning social media to promote my work and gaining important exposure by regularly exhibiting my work at galleries throughout the country at minimal cost.

A few years ago I’d had some very nurturing free business advice from a lady called Morag Ballantyne. She obviously saw the potential in me that I wasn’t quite brave enough to fully face. She encouraged me and showed me a variety of options which would move my creative business in the right direction. I guess that was the closest I’d got to reviewing myself following my graduation. But this seemed different, this opportunity was with the A-N magazine, it seems so much more officious and scary. As interested as I was I didn’t know how I could spend that amount of money on investing in me as a designer/maker and my business. I clicked away from the advert and moved onto more pressing things like catching up on my administration.

About a week later, a good friend and fellow artist rang me. She’d also seen the advert and asked me if I was going for it, noting that it was now a very short deadline, 2 days in fact. “Mmmm, I’m not sure”, I said, “I was thinking about accessing the skills of Pete Mosely, but I’m still not sure I can justify it, it seems and awful lot of money.” Through total selfless encouragement she talked me into applying and after making an initial contact with Pete, who was quite happy to give me some advise on the approach I needed; I proceeded to download the dreaded form.

Once on the screen I blinked many times staring at the empty spaces that revealed themselves to me on the application form. Inspiration didn’t come easily so I thought, “I guess if I fill in the questions I can answer, then half of the battle will be done.” Still some blank boxes to fill. I started to look through my files at some other applications and submissions I had put together in the past, some successful, others not so much. It was in this way that I began to fill in the empty spaces. I think the hardest thing about the form is some of the questions seemed to duplicate themselves and I was left saying to myself, “Well, I’ve already said that!” Soon though, I had managed to fill something in all of the boxes on the form. Next, I needed a second and third opinion. I emailed it through to a few of professional friends for their feedback and input. The first, took out some words and added more in where it was needed which I was expecting as I am dyslexic and although I do read and re-read things through I often miss the most obvious of mistakes. The second advised me that although my form was shaping up I did need to make sure I used the word allowance to the full.

Using this feedback, I soldiered on. I re-read the questions, re-read my answer and put myself in the mind of the person who was about to read my form. Call it an Old English Teacher trick that was given to me at school. Think of the person who will read your form as an alien, they know nothing about you or what you can do, really give them a good visual in words. Visual, I can do, I’m an artist. So, working on this prowess, I managed to complete the form more confidently.

After a couple more emails to and fro to my friends, my form was ready to be sent. It had taken one and a half days commitment to get the “dreaded” form to a stage that I was happy with; leaving behind all negative thoughts of not worthy, too higher mountain to climb and I’ll never do it. And it was at that point I recalled a book I had read many moon ago, “Feel the fear and do it anyway” by Susan Jeffers. Expand your comfort zone, do something that stretches you a little more everyday.



“Take a risk a day, one small or bold stroke that will make you feel great once you have done it. Even if it doesn’t work out the way you wanted it to, at least you’ve tried. You didn’t sit back powerless.” 

Well, Susan, I have definitely done that and yes, I felt pretty great, I had climbed that high mountain and stuck my fancy flag right in its peak.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Interview with Rachel Reilly for "Facets of Avalon"



I met Rachel earlier this year at the British Craft Trade Fair, where we both had a stand.  During the show it was clear that we had a few connections, both in our interests and the approach to our work.

It was the ethereal quality of her work that I admired and the gentle nature that Rachel presented to me and she in turn was intrigued by the techniques I employed in my book sculptures and jewellery pieces. After a few conversations we decided to barter our work. This is quite commonplace amongst artists at events and I highly recommend the practice as it offers an opportunity to mutually appreciate each other’s creativity. I exchanged a book sculpture for a selection of jewellery pieces. I have to say I was over the moon and couldn’t stop smiling as I chose jewellery from Rachel’s stand. It still makes me smile now when someone admires her jewellery when I wear it. 

If you are a follower of my Blog, Twitter or Facebook you will have seen that I have been a little too quiet for the past few months. I can only say that I have been in a state of flux as I have needed some silent moments to re-assess my practice. Within those moments I have been carefully calculating how to carry on presenting my online journal. One of the aspects I have particularly enjoyed is interviewing other artists. By asking certain questions it can unfold aspects of the artist and how they work. 

These are the questions I pitted to Rachel:- 

Phiona: Can you describe your journey to becoming a professional maker? 

Rachel: Slow and steady mainly! I have always been a fiddler, beading as a child, moving towards textile as an adult. As an undergraduate, (jewellery degree at Sir John Cass College, London) I took apart a broken television to discover small reels of coloured wire inside… and so my wire jewellery exploration began. That was twenty years ago. I will never forget the excitement I felt when I managed to machine knit more than three consecutive rows! 


My mother and I opened Facets of Avalon, Glastonbury the year after the birth of my second child. Until then I had been fitting my creativity around part time work. 

Phiona: Many, many artists reading this will identify with that, Rachel. 

Rachel: For the first time, my jewellery business was given some importance and time. 

Phiona: And that is a dream most of us have to turn our creative skills into a serious business. 

Rachel: Over the last fifteen years I have worked hard to balance the bread and butter stock lines with the more flamboyant and theatrical work. 

Model:  Chanty Yeung
Phiona: In some cases it is easier to play it safe and not push the boundaries with your designs. 

Rachel: I’m not a natural business risk taker, but over the years I have shown at events regularly. The Desire jewellery show in London, the Glastonbury Festival and most recently my first visit to the BCTF (the British Craft Trade Fair) which I have booked for next year, it was the friendliest event I have ever been involved with! 


I supply a number of UK galleries, and a few overseas too. 

Entering competitions has always worked well for me and it’s so easy to do! Emailing good images with an application form and waiting to see the response. I won first place in the US, Bead and Button wirework category a few years ago. 

Phiona: Really! Perhaps I need to try this. 

Rachel: I love what I do and get enormous satisfaction from the contact I have with my customers plus managing to eek out a living…. pretty good eh? 

Phiona: Most definitely. What are your main influences when conceiving a piece of work? 

Rachel: If the piece is a commission then obviously the customer has already influenced the making of it, to a point. 

Phiona: Yes, I remember our discussions when I was deciding on which jewellery I wanted, you were very accommodating. 

Rachel: With a completely new collection, I let the material almost talk to me, if I manage to listen, then it’s kind of magical! There is still a thrill from changing a 2-D piece of metal mesh, into something 3-D and sculptural. I tend to make organically… with a vague starting point which evolves into a finished piece as it’s worked upon. 

It’s still surprising me, which is why, I guess I’m still working with it! 

Phiona: Do you have any new plans, collections in the pipeline? 

Rachel: I’ve been exploring origami folding this year, which is in its infancy. But I hope to develop this further in the next few months. 

Phiona: I’d be interested to see the results.

Rachel: A very exciting Geisha styled photo shoot recently spurred me onto finishing a small collection. A very talented team of Jess Augard – photography, Jo Jo P – make up, and Chanty Yeung – model worked fantastically well together. 

Photographer - Jess Augard


Phiona: Wow! This collection has definitely pushed some boundaries, it’s phenomenal. 

Phiona: What would you say are your values and ethics when it comes to making? 

Rachel: a) To strive to produce the best work I possibly can b) Too enjoy the challenges along the way and to keep having fun in the making. c) The spirit of my enjoyment, I hope is seen in the work. d) To not get complacent and to keep seeking out new techniques, pushing the boundaries… 

Phiona: What tips do you have to get around creative block? 

Rachel: There is a world of inspiration out there, online or on the doorstep! Looking at other artist’s work, not to copy but to appreciate a different outlook, I find also very interesting. There is such a thing of being over visually stimulated however… 

A glass of wine and a good bouncing around of ideas with friends is good too! Some crazy sketching in the middle of the night….messy, spontaneous, not precious, just first workings, relaxed explorations… 

Make up by Jo Jo P
Phiona: Do you allow people to visit you at your studio? 

Rachel: Absolutely! The shop/gallery is my studio too….I have workshop space at one end of the shop floor. I’d go mental if I couldn’t make, whilst being in the shop! It’s nice to be able to do mini demos to interested visitors, knit colour samplers on the spot, to show customers thinking of commissioning. 

Blending the workshop and retail space keeps things vibrant. 

Phiona: How did you get into running workshops? 

Rachel: To date, I have given one, one-to-one workshop… it was lovely. It’s not where my heart is however, not right now anyway. I am a maker through and through! 

Phiona: Do you have an online presence that we can find more information about your work? 

Rachel: Yes, of course my own website is www.rachelreilly.com and the shop’s website is www.facetsofavalon.com 

Phiona: Thank you so much for sparing the time for my questions, if I don’t see you before I will see you at BCTF where I have also booked a stand for 2014.