As I stepped through the entrance of South Hill Park for their annual Craft and Design Fair the other day, it occurred to me that (gulp) I had been coming to this event, on and off, for exactly 20 years! A very sobering thought indeed – where did all that time go? The very first time was with a (still) good friend of mine in days when I still had no transport of my own: she bought me a lovely bowl from the fair that I had clearly “got my eye on” as my Christmas present and I still have it on my kitchen shelf, albeit with part of the rim glued back where it received a knock a few years ago during a house-move. I can remember, with such precision, when it was because it was in the run-up to my first ever Christmas away from family, spent with friends in Reading. The year was 1991!
Some things change very little and one is the kind of thing that appeals to me. I am passionate about stained glass and, for what seems like an eternity, have been a fan of stained glass artist Caroline Loveys and – low and behold – the very first stall that I set eyes on as I entered the fair was hers. A variety of Caroline’s dragonfly and bee embellished light-catchers (see left) have adorned various windows (of various houses) of mine over something like the past ten or maybe even fifteen years. In fact, so taken with her work am I that, when I was on the verge of opening my own gallery-shop over half a decade ago, it was Caroline that I called in to commission a window that would have straddled the top and lower levels of the barn I was in the throes of leasing. Fraught with planning permission issues, that particular business venture was called off at the eleventh hour (probably just as well in the light of very hard times in retail since) but I still have it in the back of my mind to commission a window from Caroline at some point.
On this occasion, I made do with some glass nuggets inset with paper, three of them with dictionary definitions of apt words (from a wide selection) which I took some time selecting and – whilst Caroline can turn these into charm bracelets or offers leather cord for hanging them – I had it in mind to use this whole cluster of nuggets in one jumble of words around my neck so I took them home as they were and this is the necklace I managed to construct. I’ve already received a couple of compliments and I absolutely love this twist on charm jewellery: to quote the friend that I met for lunch the other day, the glass nuggets appear like magnifying glasses that have magically poised themselves over key words (about me!); the ultimate revelation jewellery, depending on what words you chose – and my words were a fairly safe selection but there’s scope to be as rude or personal as you like so they would make an inspired gift. As you can tell, I was really taken with Caroline’s latest offerings and its great that she keeps the world of glass-related products so fresh.
By now, I was beginning to notice that the show seemed a bit leaner than its former self, with stalls a little more spaced than in previous years and so I couldn’t help wondering if this was a sign of the self-same hard times for arts and crafts businesses. Even with a ten-minute pause for a minced pie washed down by my second mulled wine of the season, it took me just slightly more than an hour to take in the whole show and get back to my car whereas I used to be able to loose a whole afternoon ambling around the stalls. Of course, that could be, in part, to do with the fact that I’m a lot more matter-of-fact at these shows than I used to be: no more pretending to be interested in something for the sake of politeness, I tend to breeze around quite quickly and only home-in when something really catches my eye.
The next stall that really did this was (yet another) purveyor of glass, Emma Wells, because her vintage-looking, butterfly and flower embellished glassware looked immediately familiar: I’d seen it – nay, fondled it – just a handful of days ago in one of the London Anthropologie stores (I quizzed her about this and she confirmed that, yes indeed, that was her glassware on display in what is a prime Regent Street spot). This really impressed me on her behalf – and I was even further impressed with Anthropologie themselves (a retail entity that I already have my eye on – I love their website and quite a few of my Christmas Presents have come from there this year) because how often do you see quirky hand-made stuff like this on the high street? Having first been wooed by the pages and pages of quirk that make up their website, I was thrilled to find that the huge Regent Street store (see right) had much the same feel: in fact, as I spent well over an hour browsing its three floors the other day, it struck me that it had probably captured something of the spirit of the old Eastern Bazaar that once occupied the basement of the Liberty store down the road being filled to bursting, as it is, with an array of colourful and idiosyncratic objects and clothes sourced from who-knows-where. As I stood looking at more of the same butterfly embellished objects that I had picked up, put down, considered buying and then talked myself out of just the other day (on the premise of how many coasters does one person need?) I now had my answer on one of these points as I stood looking at the creator of said objects. Far more appealing than coasters, here were huge glass bowls (and I still love my bowls!) along the same theme…but I may have to save up for a while for one of those.
The two glass stalls were lovely and there were a few other highlights but the main one, for me, was coming across Justine Weyman of Clouded Yellow who makes gorgeous evening bags and purses and so having a chat with her about my plans to print some of my art onto fabric with a view to getting them made up into the end-products just like hers. Suffice to say that, a few emails later, she has had a look at my proposed fabric designs and we are now both very keen to take things a step further if my sample run – which has just gone to print up in Manchester – turns out as well as hoped. Which just goes to show that the best thing about art and design shows is that they are a brilliant forum for networking and bouncing off other artists; in the space of one impromptu chat, I’d managed to progress something that’s been on my list of things to do for some time! I came home feeling very pleased with myself, with a handful of glass nuggets, the rosy glow of the mulled wine and the distinct feeling that, whilst a lot has happened over the past 20 years, there are some very distinct themes stringing my life together across all of that time.