Thursday, 8 December 2011

Church bells, crafts and community

An ancient site on a high and windy hillside, overlooking a vale throughout which Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans and more have all left their mark:  this is the village of Great Chishill.  It was a great privilege to take part in the village’s first ever ‘Crafts in the Barn’ event on Saturday last, in aid of the bell fund for St Swithun’s church, an already-established institution when it was gifted to the monastery of Walden by  Geoffrey de Mandeville in 1136.

Invited by a generous friend from our local spinning group, I joined all kinds of talented craftspeople from the village and surrounds.   Though it’s probably been true since time immemorial, it still amazes and pleases me to discover so many different and complimentary talents tucked away in villages and communities far and wide.  It opens a window on a past in which each skill had its role to play in the continuity of life, and each was valued for its contribution.   

It’s not until a community comes together for a cause like St Swithun’s that you realise just how deep the well of creativity runs in every human being, be they knitter or spinner, potter or baker, seamstress, or saddle-maker, jeweller or grower.  It felt very warming to be amongst fellow inadvertent craftspeople, whose hobbies have, like mine, taken them in interesting directions.  It also felt encompassing to be in the midst of their community of friends, all surprised and delighted to see what their neighbours can create and full of happy hopefulness that the event would set in motion a chain of good things, the church bell being just one of the beneficiaries. 

In the past, whole communities developed craft specialities, like Harris Tweed or Nottingham Lace.   Yet within each craft, the individual identities of the craftspeople could be discerned through their handling or choice  of materials, their use of colour, or the subtle differences in their techniques.  Celebrating and understanding these differences is the aim of the ‘Woven Identities’ exhibition, running through to April 2014 at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture in  Santa Fe, featuring the work of over 240 Native American basketmakers, some named and many unknown.  

Today, our modern lives are somewhat isolated from each other.  Like ghosts, we wave at each other through the ether of the internet, visiting perhaps less than we should, even though our transport is hugely more comfortable than that of our ancestors.  But real connection, with families and community,  only comes through engaging face to face, talking to others, or coming together in a common cause. 

Crafts, it seems, can re-awaken people’s shared creative genes.  Craftspeople, and those who appreciate craftwork, are open and willing  to learn from each other.  It should also be our joy to pass on our enthusiasm, and to hopefully do a little good along the way.  Here’s hoping St Swithun’s bell will be ringing again soon.   

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