Our studio is in Iliffe Yard, along with forty others. Everyone that has a studio here loves it. Everyone that visits loves it. What's not to love? A narrow cobbled street, low-rise turn-of-the-century industrial architecture in yellowy London brick, decorated by climbing jasmine, potted bamboo and rosemary, big sliding doors pulled aside in the Spring and Summer, two beautiful dogs, Meg and Pluto, everyone here engaged in creative work from painting to filmmaking. The pieces I wrote below form the Summer Open Studios publicity; my description of the Yards (there are two others nearby), and an interview with one of our neighbours, the silversmith Carol Mather.
It is that special moment again, when the Pullens Yards fling open their iron gates, and invite the world in — the Summer Open Studios. What is special about it?
Pullens Yards were purpose-built for designer-makers in the late 1880s. The studios have housed craftspeople, working with their hands, for a hundred and twenty years. Unsurprisingly, over this length of time, what most of the craftspeople produce has evolved: at one time the Yards boasted lace makers, fan makers and cabinet makers; who have been replaced by today's filmmakers, jewellers and artist potters. A few crafts have stayed, there are furniture designers and musical instrument makers here now, just as in the days of Queen Victoria.
Hannah Arendt wrote of 'homo faber', humans fully engaged in shaping the world around them, by actually producing that world with their hands. Making involves thinking about what you make, which amounts to careful thinking about everything that surrounds you. Thinking carefully about making, naturally results in made things that exhibit sensitivity, practicality and beauty.
Richard Sennett in his recent book The Craftsman puts it even more succinctly: 'making is thinking'. Making anything necessarily involves 'an intimate connection between hand and head'. By making repeatedly you learn from materials and effects, and strive to find better ways of working. This striving unifies everyone in the Yards, no matter whether they make photographs, paintings, silver dogs or wooden chairs.
Sennett again: 'craftsmanship names an enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake'. This is a rare thing in our increasingly machine-made, genericised, that-will-do, cold-calling world. The Yards are a special place, a home to thoughtful making, and on this special weekend we welcome you to participate.
A Silvery Warren: Carol Mather
Carol's studio is small compared to others at the Yards, the size of a bedroom. She doesn't need much space, her work is small work, she is a silversmith. She sits at a desk, lamps angled onto her hands, a leather pouch stretched from the desk to catch the silver filings. The tools carefully laid out are those for the tiny violence of small-scale metal working; files, hammers, vices, wire pullers.
She shares the studio three days a week with Pluto, a terribly handsome whippet. Her great love is animals. Tutors at college frowned on her for not making abstract work. When she left college, first she made jewellery boxes, highly decorated. But what people liked most were the animal-themed embellishments, so she stopped making the boxes, and started making just the animals. After animals, her main source of inspiration is late Victorian Gothic. Highly decorated, elaborate, with a big dose of medieval.
The display cupboard on her wall boasts quite a bestiary. Each piece serves a purpose; a warthog pincushion, a bear with panniers for salt and pepper. Her most recent project is miniaturisation, using computer alchemy. Carol's pieces, already small (the size of a plum), are scanned, 3D-printed in wax, casts made, and tiny replicas cast in silver. All those fantastic collective nouns; a streak of tigers, a knot of toads, but what are the nouns for a mixture of different animals? There on her table is a tumble of stags, rabbits and hounds. Gathered for a hunt, or a parade.
She works steadily on commissions. Making pendants and tiny statues of people's loved animal companions. She shows me one in progress. A pendant of a one-eyed Jack Russell, perfectly capturing his up-turned snout, long body and short powerful legs. Such life she has wrought in such tiny form. Just as alive as the whippet dozing behind us.
For the latest information on our Open Studio events go to Pullens Yard website