Exquisite crafts full of Eastern promise

It is an annual exhibition showcasing a dazzling variety of craftworks for the public to look at and buy. Ahead of the Norfolk Contemporary Craft Society show of members’ work, KEIRON PIM found out how Norfolk-based talent is winning admirers worldwide.

It is an annual exhibition showcasing a dazzling variety of craftworks for the public to look at and buy. Ahead of the Norfolk Contemporary Craft Society show of members' work, KEIRON PIM found out how Norfolk-based talent is winning admirers worldwide.


In the world of porcelain making, it must surely be the equivalent of taking coals to Newcastle. Two Norfolk-based craftsmen have recently been paid the highest of accolades from the Far East: one being asked to visit China to contribute to a museum collecting the world's best ceramics, the other being commissioned to make a teapot for the Dalai Lama.

Just how Grahame Clarke found himself making crockery for one of the world's great spiritual leaders is an unusual story in itself.

“My son-in-law is a neurologist in Cambridge and he was doing some research in America,” said Grahame, who lives and works at East Tuddenham, near Norwich. I was asked to do a teapot with a picture of a section of a brain on it for one of his colleagues, which I thought was a bit bizarre.

“They were having a talk in Washington and the Dalai Lama came along as a visiting lecturer and he saw the teapot and liked it - so they asked me to make it again. I made it last autumn and it was presented to him in November.”

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By all accounts the Dalai Lama was delighted with his gift, which combined a traditional English porcelain teapot, cups and saucers with a design lifted from a classic study of the human brain drawn by Spanish scientist Santiago Ramon y Cajal.

The illustration is not typical of Grahame's work - he paints figures and scenes from nature on most of his pieces - but the traditional English porcelain style is, and there will be plenty of examples of his craft at the Norfolk Contemporary Craft Society's annual show, which begins tomorrow.

Ruthanne Tudball, who will also be exhibiting at the show, is an American-born potter who moved to England in 1968, and now works from Temple Barn Pottery at East Dereham. She has had a long and varied career and has established a name for herself with her soda-glazed pottery, to the extent that she was invited to Shanghai in China to contribute to a museum that collects the best works from ceramicists around the world.

“They have invited me to be part of an exhibition called the International Top 10 Teapot Masters. I'm one of 10 people to be invited, and I'm the one representing Britain.

“It's near the biggest porcelain-producing area in China, and China of course is the first place that ceramics were made and exported from. So it is a bit daunting, and it is a bit like taking coals to Newcastle! But it will be fun.

“I will go over and work there for a month, using their clay and their materials, and you leave your work there as part of an ongoing exhibition in this huge museum.”

Grahame and Ruthanne are among a total of 60 craftsmen who will be exhibiting their wares this weekend in the county's biggest annual display of local craftwork. Every year the Norfolk Contemporary Craft Society holds an exhibition and sale of work, in which the public may buy works created by its members.

This year's show, entitled Out of Hand, will be held in the beautiful setting of the Assembly House's Music Room, marking a return to Norwich after several years' absence.

Visitors will see a variety of furniture, textiles, jewellery, ceramics, decorative glass, calligraphy and letter cutting, hand-decorated paper, bookbinding, baskets and turned wood. Society member Kate Vogler, who is a potter, said that the only way to grasp the variety of different goods on offer would be to visit the exhibition, which represents a snapshot of the range of talented craftsmen who are hard at work in Norfolk today.

“There's really such a diversity of contemporary crafts, everything from furniture to beautiful silk scarves, that people need to come along and see it for themselves,” said Kate.

The event is being supported by the National Lottery, Arts Council England and Norfolk County Council, and will feature more people than it is possible to list here. Among others, participants include David Goodship, who makes beautiful handcrafted jewellery from his workshop in West Runton; German-born ceramicist Antje Ernestus, who lives at Wood Dalling; Norwich-based craftsman John Barnard, who in 1981 made a table for Prince Charles and Princess Diana, and more recently created a 'Victory Suite' of wooden furniture using oak from Lord Nelson's flagship; and June Croll, a textile designer who is inspired by the Norfolk countryside to create garments using silk, wool, copper wire and natural fibres.

The exhibition will kick off tomorrow evening when the society hosts a “meet the makers” preview evening with wine and refreshments, and the following evening will include a public lecture. Catherine Butcher, artist services manager from Commissions East, will speak on the subject of Weaving Your Way into Commissioning, with contributions by John Barnard and letter cutter David Holgate.

The show will be opened by Aude Gotto, who has run the King of Hearts Centre for People and the Arts since 1990. The venue in Magdalen Street has also featured a crafts shop since 2000, which serves as a showcase for the work of East Anglian artists.

The Norfolk Contemporary Craft Society was formed in 1972 by local people and was supported by the-then director of the Norfolk Museum Service to promote contemporary, high-quality craftwork in the area.

Although it is based in Norfolk, the society accepts members who live in other parts of East Anglia or who have links with the region. Benefits for members include exhibitions, talks and events, and the society aims to help members sell their works and meet other members socially, as well as to raise public awareness of good design and high quality in small-scale production.

The society maintains close links with the Castle Museum in Norwich, where members have contributed to the museum's collection of contemporary craft objects.

Vivienne Head, from Aylsham, has long been a member of the society and has been creating high-quality jewellery for more than 25 years. She said she was looking forward to the exhibition not just as a chance to sell her own work but also to see the creations of fellow members of the society.

“There's going to be some cracking work, from furniture makers to potters. Every year we have this exhibition, and it will show craftsmanship at its very best.”

A raffle will be held during the exhibition in which there will be the chance to win vouchers worth £60 and £40, which the winners can use to buy an exhibit of their choice. Workshops and demonstrations of craft designing and making will be given in the Hobart Room throughout the exhibition.

Out of Hand will be open daily from 10am to 6pm from September 28-30, and from 11am to 4pm on October 1. Admission is free.

For more information about the Norfolk Contemporary Craft Society, see www.norfolkcraft.co.uk

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