Mary Butcher: Craft Council Designer in Residence (2009)

Mary Butcher is an artist basketmaker who uses natural materials, plastics, wire, strings, cardboard strips and paper to make containers and sculptures in a wide variety of scales and forms. She has a strong interest in the transmission of her craft, teaching it widely both in the UK and internationally. Mary was Crafts Council Designer in Residence at the V&A between July and December 2009.

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Hidden Collections

I was in the 'hidden' Museum the other day collecting basketry materials I have had stored there, and was instantly back in the special atmosphere of stillness, silence, warmth, and a plethora of miscellaneous objects. The stuff has stayed as there was a complex arrangement necessary to transport natural materials into the building in case they carried disease. So once in, the willow and bark, rush and Iris leaves, stayed until used up or no longer needed. Everything, tightly wrapped in heavy polythene and sealed with parcel tape, went into the Conservation Dept freezer, to be kept at minus 30 …

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New willow season, new blog season

I am resuming my basket blog with as much vigor as the new willow, late to leaf here in Kent this year because of all those nights well below freezing. But here it comes, filling my car as I have to drive stuff home. My first batch was cut by friends at a delightful small holding of long standing, a small market garden, where basketmakers planted a willow patch about 10 years ago. The cutting parties involve coffee and cake in sun or cold and are delightful occasions, surrounded by orchard, large vegetable plot, hens clucking. This is the rural …

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This is the Crafts Council craft event, two weeks of delicious things exhibited in a pavilion in the courtyard of Somerset House so surrounded by fine building of a serious nature. Inside are stalls, shops, booths – describe them as you wish, but each has an individual craftsperson displaying their finest products and willing to talk and show and, of course, sell to you or negotiate a commission. It is a treat and an eye-opener and this year is a good one. The layout is a little different and gives a greater sense of space, and I think they may …

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London Design Festival

This, a couple of weeks ago, happened in the Sackler Centre of the V & A as well as all over London. What a happening! Outside the Studios was a constant crowd of exhibition watchers, those going to talks and seminars, having coffees and generally transforming the building with action in the classroom downstairs, the […]

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The Upsett

This is a show of contemporary basketry in the Barbican library foyer, showing the world that the craft is no longer what people instantly imagine. No shoppers here, though I love to see them in other exhibitions and still love to teach those traditional skills which it is so important to maintain. More of that, and the Heritage Crafts Association another time. But here are diverse sculptural objects, threads, wires, willow, and much more, professionally set out in cases with surface broken with covered flat plinths – can plinths be flat?– setting the objects up really well against light backgrounds. …

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The Baroque

I went off to this exhibition not expecting to be so interested, but not knowing a great deal either. But it was rich and ornate and elaborate in the ways I had anticipated but also much more absorbing.

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Basketry begins

It is already hard now to recall those first feelings in the Studio. My workshop at home sounds a more artisanal thing than artist’s space although I no longer make functional items regularly. Here was a mix of amazement, anticipation, questioning, wariness, delight. What did I have here? Little, it seemed, apart from remnants of the previous occupant, a Product Designer, who left long red strings from the lighting gantries, a few origami light shades for mini bulbs and a useful workbench. The strings, now carefully kept for an odd continuity, needed an ultra tall ladder for removal, and all …

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