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Simple Pleasures

Explore the very best in contemporary craft at Devon’s MAKE Southwest this summer. Words by Mercedes Smith.

If you are someone who appreciates art, loves sharing food, and thinks your home should be a place of beauty and ethical expression, I’m guessing you already have a relationship with contemporary craft. If it is a world you haven’t explored yet, let me take you there.

In the heart of Bovey Tracey on the edge of Dartmoor stands MAKE Southwest, one of the UK’s leading contemporary craft galleries. It exhibits the work of more than 300 exceptional makers from across the region, all peer selected for their high quality and sustainable approach to the creation of uniquely beautiful handmade objects. Here in the West, as contemporary craft sees a major resurgence, we are at last developing the kind of reverence for the handmade that you find in Japan and the East, where functional objects are honoured for their beauty, usefulness and craft lineage.

Catkin bowl, Lizzie Farey
Catkin bowl, Lizzie Farey

As a student of Modern Art, even I paid little attention to the crafts until I spent six years working with potters in St Ives, and began to understand the extraordinary level of commitment and skill behind each unassuming pot. “If you have an understanding of how much training, knowledge and work have gone into a single piece of contemporary craft, you can’t help but have a reverence for it,” says MAKE Exhibitions Manager, Flora Pearson. Flora has curated shows here for more than 20 years, and her knowledge of who and what defines craft right now is reflected in MAKE’s endlessly fascinating programme of exhibitions, which have recently included Making It, a showcase of work by emerging regional designers, A Taste of Japan, an exhibition of work by contemporary Japanese potters, and Pulp, an international exhibition of paper art.

“At MAKE our aim is to give people fresh new angles on contemporary craft,” Flora tells me. “Our work is about defining and celebrating making today. We have a really creative community here in the South West and we are always looking to support them, but we also want to inspire people by showing them wonderful new things, and not just things from the South West – we also show a lot of national and international craft as well. It is an important part of our role here to show what’s going on in the wider craft world.” Flora, too, has noticed the increasing interest in craft since the pandemic, and the sea change in attitudes towards the handmade. “Since lockdown especially, people are beginning to appreciate the touch of the maker’s hand on a craft object,” she says. “For a lot of people, life now is about living more simply, about paring things back. We live in a really complex world, and for many what’s important are things that have been made by hand, things that have a maker that you can meet in person and a story that you can relate to.

Left: Jewellery by Cindy Ashbridge, photo by Paul Mounsey.

Right: ‘Dandelions’, Rosie Sanders

“At MAKE we love telling the stories around craft, and every time we have an opportunity to tell those stories we will, because the more people understand the history of contemporary craft, the more value they recognise in it.” MAKE team member Imogen Hayes agrees, saying: “I think people are craving a return to the idea of ‘slow’ making, and green credentials are becoming essential now as well.” She tells me about MAKE’s Green Maker Initiative, a voluntary pledge which highlights and supports creatives in the South West who are dedicated to reducing their impact on the environment through their choice of materials and working processes.  Commitments like this show the importance that the craft sector places on community, and on a shared ethos: craft has always brought with it the idea of principled making and a sharing of knowledge, a passing down of skills and a taking up of new, more considered approaches to working. “There are often very close-knit relationships in craft,” says Imogen, “between mentors and their apprentices here at MAKE especially. The same is true of craft collectors. Our visitors, though they may just be buying a ceramic bowl or woven basket, are supporting someone’s livelihood and way of life, and they understand that. Those things go hand in hand in buying craft.” The gallery space at MAKE is, of course, a craft lover’s paradise, offering everything from studio ceramics, textiles, basketry and tableware to jewellery, kinetic art and beautiful books on the practice and history of contemporary craft. I could wander around it for hours, and I do, immersing myself endlessly in fascinating objects of curious design and beauty.  For an art and interiors lover like me the temptations are endless, and so I play a little game with Flora and Imogen as we walk and talk. How, I ask Flora, would she furnish her dream house from the selection of wonderful objects at MAKE? “Starting from the floor up?” she plays along. “I would begin with a work by Angie Parker, one of our rug weavers. She uses traditional weaving methods but is highly contemporary in her practice and works with really beautiful neon colours in unusual combinations.

Raku pot, Rob Sollis
Raku pot, Rob Sollis

“Then we have some really strong furniture makers like Christian O’Reilly, and Ambrose Vevers, who is a young woodworker using beautiful green wood, or scorched ash, which is a really sustainable material. Most of our furniture makers use locally felled and fallen wood. On my dining table I would have ceramics by Jodie Crook-Giles, a young potter living and working on Dartmoor who makes beautiful thrown tableware. I also love the work of Imogen Taylor-Noble. Imogen uses locally foraged clay and a woodfired kiln, and she relies on coppicing to fire the kiln, which results in the most gorgeous ash glazes. For the walls we have some exceptional printmakers,” she adds. “I would love a Rosie Sanders monoprint. Rosie is an amazing botanical artist, and because I love print so much I would also have some Michael Honnor lithographs, and some abstract prints by Anita Reynolds.” Encouraged, I bring Imogen into the game. She gives us a distinctly modern take on the interior, pointing to a ceramic work I’ve been admiring fervently myself. “I’d start with this stunning Rob Sollis bowl,” she says, of a huge piece in matt neon orange that creates an optical illusion, as if the vessel has absolutely no depth. It is a spectacular piece. “And then a sculptural basket by Sarah Le Breton, for the floor,” she adds. And for dining? I ask her. “I’d have furniture by Jo Weadon of Studio Arvor,” she tells me, of a young designer-maker who minimises the environmental footprint of her pieces by sourcing only local materials. “I love her work. And I’d have hand carved wooden serving spoons, bowls and platters by Rosie Brewer,” she says, of a maker whose wonderfully tactile pieces embrace the natural twists, knots and patterns within her materials. I have my own thoughts about the pieces I plan to take home myself: a beautifully understated stem vase by Nix Hawkins; an exquisitely crafted sycamore bowl by Takahashi McGil. Our conversation, though playful, perfectly illustrates the ways in which contemporary craft can enhance the domestic space and allow us to express our own appreciation of beauty and originality. I have always been devoted to beautiful objects. I’ve built my life around appreciating them, so MAKE has become something of a touchstone for me in the last year, a place where I can enjoy the simple pleasure of things designed to make the world a lovelier place.

For opening times, available works and information on MAKE’s current 20 Years in the Making exhibition see

Top Left: Ceramics, Imogen Taylor Noble

Top Centre: Alice chair, Christian O’Reilly

Top Right: Candlesticks, Brett Payne

Bottom Left: Collaborative works, Takahashi Mcgil and Hilary Burns.

Bottom Centre: Light pendants and mug, Sue Pryke

Bottom Right: Wooden spoons, Rosie Brewer, photo by Yeshen Venema

Handwoven rug, Angie Parker
Handwoven rug, Angie Parker


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