We’ve all heard of endangered animals but have you heard of endangered crafts?
The UK has an amazing range of heritage skills and crafts some of which the Chilterns are known for, such as chair making, but sadly the knowledge of how to do some of these skills are becoming endangered.
The Heritage Crafts Association received a grant in 2015, to enable them to assess the viability of traditional heritage crafts in the UK. Their research has led to them publishing a red list of endangered crafts. They hope their research will help to shine a light on these dying skills and act as a call to action to those who have it within their power to resolve or alleviate these issues. The hope is that their project will mark the start of long-term monitoring of heritage craft viability and a shared will to avoid the cultural loss that is borne each time a craft dies.
See what crafts are on the red list
Chiltern Open Air Museum doesn’t only rescue and protect physical buildings, but the stories and traditions connected to the people who inhabited them. Onsite we try to carry out as many traditional practices and skills as possible, some, such as hurdle making, are used as par by the team who maintain the site, others, such as rag rug making, are taught and demonstrated in school workshops and events, and some skills are shared in the form of workshops and experience days. We are proud that we now offer ten different experience days or workshops that encompass traditional skills and techniques. Our aim is to be able to offer more opportunities for people to learn traditional skills in the future.
Working with straw and corn dolly making are one of the traditional skills listed on the Heritage Crafts Associations list of endangered crafts. The Museum is very fortunate that skilled straw practitioner, Heather Beeson has agreed to run Working with Straw experience days at the Museum to teach and pass on this beautiful skill to new people. We offer a variety of straw workshops for varying skill sets from complete beginners to those with a little more experience as well as courses suitable for children. Heather also runs mixed skills sessions for those who might be working on their own straw projects but would like a little guidance or support.
Other experience days and workshops that we offer are still viable crafts. Those on the viable list are deemed to have sufficient numbers of knowledgeable craftspeople who are able to pass it on to the next generation. However, these will only remain viable if there are opportunities and exposure to inspire and encourage people to learn them.
We currently run the following experience days and skills:
Working with Straw
Willow Weaving and Sculpture
English Folk Singing
Watercolour and Sketching
Experience days can be purchased via our website shop or via our ticket office.
In the future, using our traditional bodgers area, we hope to be able to have demonstrations and workshops on the endangered crafts of broom making, hurdle making, pole lathe bowl turning and rake making.
HCA Chair Patricia Lovett MBE said: “Traditional crafts are a vital part of the UK’s intangible cultural heritage (ICH)… not our monuments and historical artefacts, which are already well-protected by heritage professionals, but the living knowledge, skills and practices used to create them… along with many of the other things we treasure in this country. While we campaign for the UK to ratify the UNESCO Convention on ICH safeguarding (we are one of only 18 countries in the world that hasn’t), we will continue to catalogue our endangered craft heritage and focus attention on that which we are in danger of losing, so paving the way for the UK to join the rest of the world in protecting this important element of our shared culture.”
About the Heritage Crafts Association
Founded in 2009 by a small group of makers and those interested in craft, the Heritage Crafts Association (HCA) is the advocacy body for traditional heritage crafts. Working in partnership with Government and key agencies, it provides a focus for craftspeople, groups, societies and guilds, as well as individuals who care about the loss of traditional crafts skills, and works towards a healthy and sustainable framework for the future. Our aims it to support and promote heritage crafts as a fundamental part of our living heritage. In the UK traditional crafts are not recognised as either arts or heritage so fall outside the remit of all current support and promotion bodies. At the HCA we are doing what we can to address that situation and safeguard craft skills and knowledge for the future.