Aldeburgh’s summer showcase of Suffolk crafts

Suffolk Craft Society stages its annual summer showcase to celebrate homegrown talent and demonstrat

Suffolk Craft Society stages its annual summer showcase to celebrate homegrown talent and demonstrate that high quality craft is also an art form. Photo: Dennis Hales - Credit: Archant

Each summer The Suffolk Craft Society stages a showcase of homegrown talent with their annual exhibition in Aldeburgh. Arts editor Andrew Clarke is dazzled by a show that demonstrates that craft is also art.

Suffolk Craft Society stages its annual summer showcase to celebrate homegrown talent and demonstrat

Suffolk Craft Society stages its annual summer showcase to celebrate homegrown talent and demonstrate that high quality craft is also an art form. Photo: Dennis Hales - Credit: Archant

Thirty years ago if you mentioned the Suffolk Craft Society you could be forgiven for conjuring up the image of an exhibition hall filled with wonderful one-off pieces of wood-turned furniture, some exquisite ceramics, the odd piece of tapestry and a flurry of batik scarves. The annual summer show in Aldeburgh was a repository of high quality craft work but, looking back at it now, it’s easier to admit that, at times, it did appear somewhat pedestrian.

It presented the image, rightly or wrongly, of being a support network for a number of talented hobbyists. Today all that has changed. The Suffolk Craft Society summer exhibition in Aldeburgh’s Peter Pears Gallery is a bright, buzzing, thoroughly contemporary show that presents a vital shop window for a raft of skilled craft professionals who turn out everything from quirky metal sculpture to delicate jewellery to intricate textiles that work as paintings.

This transformation hasn’t happened overnight. The society has been steadily evolving, consciously re-inventing itself for the last three decades – adopting new members, bringing in new skills and allowing members to swap skill-sets.

They have been anxious to expand the reach of the society while maintaining a high quality level. The introduction of new blood hasn’t been at the expense of the older members many of whom are still toiling away and provide the heart and soul of the society.

Suffolk Craft Society stages its annual summer showcase to celebrate homegrown talent and demonstrat

Suffolk Craft Society stages its annual summer showcase to celebrate homegrown talent and demonstrate that high quality craft is also an art form. Photo: Dennis Hales - Credit: Archant

Sarah Thane, CBE, the society chair, says the organisation continues to grow because it encourages makers to swap experiences and to integrate different disciplines. They are an organisation that encourages members to talk to one another and to share skills and knowledge. She said that it was important to combine the skills of experienced practitioners with the curiosity, inventiveness and the burning ambition of the young.

“Furniture sits alongside, jewellery, glass, ceramics, textiles, paintings and prints. The scope of the work generated by the society is dazzling and the quality is first rate.”

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Each year the big challenge is to reinvent the exhibition space making it a bright, welcoming space that allows visitors space to move and to step back and view the work.

Sarah says: “I like the fact that it is well spaced out, that you have got good walk ways. Personally I feel nervous if I get hemmed in. You want to be able to step back and not be worried about knocking something off the shelf with your elbow. When you come through the door you need to be greeted with an overall view and glimpses round the corner. It should draw you in.”

Suffolk Craft Society stages its annual summer showcase to celebrate homegrown talent and demonstrat

Suffolk Craft Society stages its annual summer showcase to celebrate homegrown talent and demonstrate that high quality craft is also an art form. Photo: Dennis Hales - Credit: Archant

This year’s exhibition features some well known names, people like Kate Reynolds, Zoe Rubens, Usch Spettigue and Dennis Hales but also provides exhibition space for some less familiar names. “We have 60 exhibitors this year from a total membership of 108, some people have got various projects on the go or have different priorities at different times so they can’t always submit work for the show. We like people to put forward new work, pieces that people haven’t seen before, to keep things fresh.

“The other thing to remember that all these pieces are one-offs. No two bowls, glasses, boxes, jugs, chairs, tapestries are alike. When you buy an item from a Suffolk craftsperson you are buying something that is unique. You have bought a talking point. A crafts person is able to stamp their personality on the item, make it special. A lot of thought, imagination and creativity go into even the simplest item and the quality is second to none.”

But, the Suffolk Craft Society is more than just a shop window, it offers members a support service.

“It allows experienced members to not only talk to one another but also to talk to younger members and come up with solutions to practical problems. Like any creative endeavour, working in a studio can be a very isolating experience and at times you need to talk things through or just swap ideas.”

She said that the processes can also be time consuming and depending on the size or complexity of the work, it can take five or six weeks or even six months to complete a piece.

“The years of talent and training that goes into the work produced by the members is light years ahead of the tie-dyed T-shirt stereotype which used to haunt craftspeople. These are genuine works of art as well as practical objects.”

The Suffolk Craft Society Summer Exhibition runs at the Sir Peter Pears Gallery, Aldeburgh, until August 28

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