Craft heritage is the activity of using traditional materials and knowledge to practice a craft and continue it for successive generations. They emerge from a need, a place and the materials found at that location. A rich craft heritage reflects local skill, knowledge and community identity. But crafts become extinct when needs change, manufacture is exported overseas, or allied trades and materials disappear.
THE HERITAGE CRAFT ASSOCIATION
The Heritage Craft Association was founded in 2010. We are the first UK-wide champion which recognises heritage crafts and we collaborate with government partners, agencies, groups, societies and businesses to protect traditional skills and knowledge. With mentoring and funding, HCA offers the framework to allow crafts to flourish.
A key part of our work has been the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts. From coppersmithing, engine turning and rush matting, we created a list of 212 heritage crafts and placed them into four categories: extinct, critically endangered, endangered, and currently viable. This shows which crafts have the demand, materials, practitioners and willing apprentices to thrive, and which require support to continue.
Apart from highlighting the disappearance of heritage crafts in Britain, the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts acts as a catalyst for people to get involved. Traditional crafts get taken up alongside current businesses. During a follow-up survey this year, we found that the previously “extinct” craft of sieve and riddle making, now has two practitioners and is part of commercial production.
WHY CRAFT IS IMPORTANT
Heritage crafts reflect traditions and national diversity. But craft is also important to our being. Myself, I love to knit. I’ve found that by learning how to make, you develop an understanding for how materials work, how craft works. It’s a process which gives you an appreciation of how other things are made.
Most people in modern careers don’t have tangible, physical results for their work, and it shows. At an HCA lecture, a medical professor explained that his students have increasingly less haptic skills and struggle to perform essential medical tasks, like sewing. These days, people just don’t develop manual dexterity in the same way as they use to. It reduces cognitive abilities and impacts an ability to make things.
sheffield: toolmaking heritage
Sheffield was built on toolmaking. The city sits on the confluence on three rivers and became a hub for metalwork and industrial innovation. Traditional crafts like handmaking scissors and shears are key to the Sheffield community. There’s a long history of highly skilled metallurgical heritage and it would be a tragedy to lose the crafts and skills that come with it.
Craft heritage is not about nostalgia. Crafts change with time to suit demand and need. However, scissors are an important, everyday household tool that people have been using for centuries. Ernest Wright recognises what it means to shape Sheffield’s cultural heritage into the future and thanks to their dedicated master-putters, a traditional craft is thriving in contemporary production.