Category Archives: News

Help make a Garland

With a wonderful team of writers and makers, I am embarking on a new venture which I hope will be of benefit to those who produce and enjoy beautiful craft.

Garland is a platform for thoughtful writing about objects that reflect tradition, skill, creativity and place. By subscribing now, you can help build a rich resource of narrative, history and analysis that reveals what we make of our world. Learn more here:

Survey shows a need for critical writing about craft

The results of our survey are out. About two-thirds of respondents were craft practitioners. The others included curators/writers (44%) and designers (37%). Most currently get their information from existing craft & design organisations, though half also get their news from Facebook and blogs.

When asked about the kinds of formats that would be of interest, there was strong support for reflective writing, including reviews, essays and profiles. A surprising number opted for craft histories, which suggests a need to provide some reference point for the field.



While a survey like this is useful to collect data, the space for extra comment is critical to gauge thinking and gather ideals. Other suggestions for content included:

  • artist profiles when written independently and not gallery/artist generated publicity.
  • investigative, analytical, witty editorial inquiry and one that pays writers
  • Finding a way to network young curators with artists is also something missing from the Craft Industry
  • Interviews with national / international craft and design curators Articles on grass roots initiates that promote and sell work
  • It would be good to see some true, critical journalism, critiquing
  • I think it should cover the intersections of the changing world of craft- ie traditional crafts and their reinvention using new materials/ new purposes

One craftsperson commented on a divide between the university and practice. While many enjoy the stimulation of education, they miss this when they leave.

I often feel I don’t know what craft workshops/depts are up to (visiting artists/shows/current theoretical thinkings in their galleries etc) and I’d like to know as I miss the academic world and its goings ons as a maker. As a maker I think there is too bigger disjunct once you are out in the real world between the two…

Many pleaded for critical writing, perceiving that many publications about craft are simply promotional.

Overall, the comments reflected the absence of publication – “Once again we are without quality Craft/Design publication so the need to restore the balance is important.” And a sense that something should be done new – “I think that it is timely and important for craft in Australia to have a lively, current, well written, pictorially rich magazine.”

As to the title, respondents were evenly split between the alternatives. But comments were useful in ensuring that the final title can realise the hopes that might be invested in it.

Thanks so much to all those who completed the survey. Your offers of support will be very important in getting this publication started.

Depending on seed funding, we hope to have the publication launched at the Parallels conference, National Gallery of Victoria in September. Please stay tuned for developments as they occur this year. If you have any inquiries, please contact me through this blog.

A country that no longer makes things or art?

The 2014 Australia Federal government budget includes a cut of $28.8m to ‘uncommitted funding’ from the Australia Council. This is likely to impact mostly on individual artists and projects. Thankfully, organisations on triennial funding are untouched, but it does compromise their programming if there is little support for artists to develop work. Given the lack of support for local manufacturing, this budget suggests that the current government does not prioritise local production, whether in culture or industry. Many craftspersons have drawn on individual funding to make significant works of lasting value. It raises the question, are we happy just to be consumers of cultures and products made elsewhere? What will era have to show future generations?

Budget cuts hit artists who can least afford it | Daily Review: film, stage and music reviews, interviews and more.

Matcham Skipper 1921-2011–a make-do bohemian jeweller

Matcham Skipper photo by Mark Strizic

Matcham Skipper photo by Mark Strizic

Matcham Skipper was a legendary jeweller of Melbourne’s bohemian world. As a creature of Montsalvat, Skipper disdained Australian themes. But as a native of Melbourne suburbs, he couldn’t help but do things with an egalitarian ethic.

A descendent of Lord Nelson, Matcham’s father Mervyn was a radical writer often on the wrong side of the censorship board. Matcham was born in 1921 and grew up in Eltham when it was still rural. He learnt his first jewellery in 1945 using silver coins, beating them into patterns. He gleaned information from the library and trade jewellers, who he’d ply to divulge their secrets. His wife Myra was studying painting at the National Gallery school, but developed a specialisation in enamelling. He helped set Matcham on the path to being a jeweller. Matcham also studied at RMIT.

Matcham found a ready clientele among the bohemian scene associated with establishments such as the Swanston Family Restaurant. But it was Montsalvat in the rural outskirts of Melbourne that became to envelop his world. Montsalvat was the dream of the painter, Justus Jorgenson, as a bastion of artistic passions set against the dreary conformity of Melbourne suburbs. Matcham applied himself to its construction out of discarded building materials and eventually had a house and workshop of his own.

While enjoying the role of artist, Matcham also held dear to his identity as a craftsman. The adventure of making was key to his engagement with jewellery. For many years he was content to make his work anonymously, but he was eventually convinced in 1958 to have a solo exhibition at Brummel Gallery in South Yarra. His proved to be a success and he was subsequently sought after a jeweller to his generation.

Matcham is known particularly for his figurative cast silver jewellery, sometimes including large stones. This work diverges greatly from the German-inspired modernism that began to characterise the Melbourne jewellery scene around RMIT. His themes were often taken from European mythology. In his 1968 commission of cuff-links for the Duke of Edinburg he drew on the theme of Icarus.

In the broader scheme of Australian jewellery, Matcham helped pave a way for the idea of jewellery as an art form, rather than just a trade. His he overtly disowned any Australian references. When interviewing him last year, Matcham said he had never considered the idea of an Australian jewellery:

Everything about Australia was wrong. We were crawling up the arse of the English. We’d sent all our young people off there to get their heads shot off…. The kangaroo is a joke. I loved the English horses.

Despite avoiding any Australian themes in his work, he pursued a distinctly make-do approach to this practice. He had a love of old tools and gadgets that he hoarded for future use. Many of the techniques such as centrifuge casting were improvised with many failures.

Matcham’s fame was due as much to his personality as much as jewellery. His open marriage was quite scandalous at the time, but he persisted with an wide-eyed passion for life and laughter that endeared him to his world. This open-heart extended to the material world, with a legendary lust for discarded objects and materials. To understand the reasons for this, it is worthwhile reading an excerpt from his letter of 1971, when visiting Rome as part of his Churchill Fellowship:

When I am sitting on the edge of the rubbish tip in Casilina outside Rome. looking at the fields of poppies and wild flowers struggling through old discarded boots, stolen handbags, acres of coloured jagged glass and plastic containers (all with a justifiable past but dubious future), my mind turns to jewellery, bringing back a fragment of order into the chaos, in a medium that I can control from its conception to its finished state, without the influence of a client, the harassment of a critic or the difficulties of expensive processing. It’s all mine while I do it. Strange that I should prefer to walk through these rubbish tips rather than the Borghese Gardens or St Peter’s; but here, shapes come about more by accident than design. and there is still room for the imagination.

Rather than bow down in reverence to the imperial splendour, Matcham preferred fossicking around rubbish to make something of his own. This disdain of authority and make-do attitude gives Matcham’s career in jewellery a distinctly Australian flavour, even if his vision was fixed on European themes.

Matcham was one of the first Australian jewellers to step into the public light. As the jeweller of his bohemian generation, his work demonstrates the power of this medium to express the values of the time. Matcham hammered out a life, loudly. 

Buy ceramics for Queensland flood victims

Janet Mansfield, OAM, "Tea Bowl", 9 cm high, starting bid: Aust. $20.00

Janet Mansfield, OAM, "Tea Bowl", 9 cm high, starting bid: Aust. $20.00

The irrepressible Vipoo Srivilasa has organised an auction to support the Premier’s Disaster Relief Appeal to assist victims of the flooding in Queensland.

According to Vipoo, "After watching the terrible footage on the news about the Queensland flooding, I was so moved I felt like I had to do something, so I went straight to the Appeal web-site to make a donation. However, I didn’t feel like I had done enough, but being an artist I can only afford so much by way of a monetary sum, but then I realised I could donate my artwork instead! Then I thought of an art auction to make the donation a bit bigger.”

Ceramicists have responded wonderfully. Already 40 of best Australian and overseas ceramicists have donated work to the cause.

The auction will happen online at from Friday 4th to Sunday 6th
February, 2011. You can preview the work by following the link at Vipoo’s web-site: To be notified when the auction is online please email with the word ‘Auction’ as a subject. For an interview, further images, or to arrange a photo-call please contact Vipoo Srivilasa on 0425-710-149. Starting bids are at the discretion of the donor artist and will range from Aust. $20 upwards. Please note: freight/insurance and any additional fees are to be paid by the successful bidder and arranged with the respective artist.

Clearly, it’s time to open your purse…

Julie Bartholomew, "I am Chanel", porcelain and decals, 32 x 23 x 10 cm, Starting bid: Aust. $100.00

Julie Bartholomew, "I am Chanel", porcelain and decals, 32 x 23 x 10 cm, Starting bid: Aust. $100.00

Kala Raksha: Three initiatives for the artisan designer

There is an old, ongoing, and passionate debate about the difference between art and craft. This debate will probably never find consensus, but it makes us ponder and observe. Years ago, three very successful traditional artisans of Kutch gave their opinions: Ismailbhai said, “The difference is imagination and skill.” “Art is what you do the first time; after that, it is craftsmanship,” Ali Mohammed Isha elaborated. And Lachhuben added, “Everyone can do craft, but not all can do art.”

Art requires concept, imagination, thought. All craft is not art. If the artisan is simply executing patterns or rote copying, it is not art. The head and the heart are as essential as the hands.

The debate matters because it has critical implications for not just the survival but the flourishing of traditional artisans. The economic standards by which art and craft are valued are night and day apart. More than that, cultural hierarchies play out in the terms used. Craft connotes charming diminutive workers, while Art commands respect.

In art, the individual conceives an idea and executes it in his or her medium. It is an activity of self expression. Traditional arts or crafts were usually more functional. A product was created as a communication between maker and user. But as in art, the artisan both conceived the product and created it.

When the relationships between maker and user broke down, design emerged as a separate entity. In craft, it is usually called design intervention, and it indicates a separation between concept and execution. In the process, the concept retains its value, while the execution becomes labour.

In order to reverse the trend, Kala Raksha started Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya, the first design school for traditional artisans. Here, artisans learn design in order to be able to create more effectively for new, distant markets. The unique concepts of each artisan designer are valued, consciousness and confidence increase, and the art aspect of craft reemerges. Artisan Design emphasies the aspect of the artisan’s thought.

Now, Kala Raksha has added a logo to this concept, in order to create visibility and value for the individual’s creative effort. Artisan Design also creates value for the integrated spirit of tradition. This is the symbol of integration of concept and execution, and of raising status of the artisan. It is a new fair trade idea—fair trade for the creative spirit. Artisan Design certifies that a product is an artisan’s own creative innovation. It celebrates the individual’s heart, mind and hand.

The second initiative is e-portfolios of the Artisan Designers who have graduated from Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya. Each graduate has invested a year of hard work and incredible creativity, to embark on a unique artistic path. Through the e-portfolios, Kala Raksha will facilitate contact to world markets for each of these artists. The contemporary market has a critical role to play in recognizing and honouring the spirit of the creator. With information technology, emerging artisan designers can be discovered by people who can value their work. The portfolios will be maintained on a new website to be launched in January 2011.

The third initiative is live in time for the holiday season. It is a collaboration with Equal Craft, a socially conscious marketplace that provides world citizens with excellent world art, and artisans with true global market value and recognition.

Combining age old tradition and the latest technology, Kala Raksha and Equal Craft are breaking social barriers. E-commerce makes it possible for rural artisans to directly connect with long distance markets. The fact that one can ask what is the difference between a quilter in Vermont selling her quilts on and Lachhuben Rabari selling her embroidered bags on says it all. There is no difference. The venture is leveling the playing field. The difference is that now Lachhuben can sell her embroidered bags directly to anyone in the world—and she can get direct feedback from her customers!

Equal Craft’s contemporary technology makes it possible to sell the story– the cultural and personal context that creates value –along with the product. You can follow what else Lachhuben has made. And you can ask this Rabari woman what she thought about when she created it—and get her response.

In the way that Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya offers design education to artisans with no formal education, makes social networking possible for artisan designers who may not read and write.