Laura Hamilton

Laura Hamilton
ImagePascal Tassini and Muriel Thies, Courtesy of Creahm Liege

How do you view Scotland as a place for celebrating craft?

With reference to the ever-increasing number of annual studio trails across the country and the number of specialist organisations such as the Scottish Furniture Makers Association and the Scottish Potters Association, it is clear that Scotland has an active range of makers who are striving to make a living from their craft. However, whilst their skills, and indeed presence, are supported and promoted by Applied Arts Scotland and Craft Scotland, craft remains poorly represented by Scottish galleries and retail outlets.

Similarly, public galleries and museums continue to favour fine art and, whilst investing in major exhibitions of international and well-established artists, are less inclined to celebrate craft in the same way. Its absence not only deprives makers of opportunities to showcase their work but also denies both them and audiences a broader access to craft, whether local or international, contemporary or historic. Recent popular TV programmes covering sewing, pottery and the Arts and Crafts Movement, coupled with trends for activities linked to concepts such as mindfulness have whetted people’s appetite to view and participate in craft across the board, and the time is now for Scotland to embrace this trend.

What actions do you think would positively impact craft and making in Scotland?

Galvanise Visit Scotland, heritage sectors, local shops, galleries and hotels into supporting and promoting local makers by showcasing and stocking their work in preference to imported goods. In an era when craft is not taught at schools and is on the decline in art schools and colleges, we should also focus on speaking to the public about the value of craft. Academic, conceptual and contextual interpretation of work displayed in exhibitions is valid but there is also a necessity for a less complex and less inhibiting means of encouraging appreciation from new and less knowledgeable audiences. A great start would be to eliminate the perception that the fine and applied arts are different species through integration in exhibitions and museum displays.

What actions do you think would positively impact the craft sector in Scotland?

Makers require only small, modest funds to be transformative for their practice. Funding should be focused towards promotion, marketing, research and studio development, with separate targeted funds for emerging and mid-career makers, so that there is more transparency over how cultural development is funded. I think the craft sector likes diversity. A lot of makers don’t want to be labelled ‘Craft Makers’. Choices like this should remain. There shouldn’t be a particular control over how people define themselves. Labels and use of language should be deeply considered.

We should put craft where audiences don’t expect to encounter it. For example, have Scottish craft within our public spaces and encourage and develop creative commissioning for businesses. In the past, the Scottish Design Council played an active role in connecting architects / builders / developers with designers and craftspeople through a regularly updated index and assistance with commissioning. Perhaps agencies such as Creative Scotland, Applied Arts Scotland and Craft Scotland could be encouraged to adopt this role so that anyone involved in the refurbishment of hotels, bars, conference rooms, libraries, sports centres, airports, even hairdressing salons etc., as well as interior design of showhomes, could access and commission work from craftspeople instead of buying ‘off-the-peg’ products?

Now a freelance curator and editor, Laura Hamilton was Director of the Collins Gallery at the University of Strathclyde from 1989 until its closure in 2012. Throughout her career, Laura has programmed some 300 exhibitions, 50% of which were curated ‘in-house’. Representing artists and makers at all stages of their careers, from the UK, Europe, Asia, Australia, America and Canada, many toured for up to 2 years and were often supported by publications, workshops, outreach projects and conferences.  Whilst the Collins did not discriminate between fine and applied art, it was the only Glasgow venue to provide a consistent platform for craft.