For this task I have been asked to research a designer/artist/maker whose work I am drawn to and consider the following questions. I’ve chosen to look more closely at the work of Ptolemy Mann.
What is their craft and how do they approach their work?
Ptolemy Mann is a textile artist and designer, whose craft is primarily weaving. She is a highly skilled hand weaver and so some of her work, commissions, is made by herself at a loom. Her textile work reveal she is an “expert at creating a broad spectrum of vibrant colours in a single design, she is known for her painterly approach” (p.172, Textile Visionaries by Bradley Quinn).
Yarn and fabric are obviously key considerations in her work, but so too is colour, she says of her development of research on colour theory; ‘Obviously I’m not a scientist or psychologist’, she says,’but many years of working as an artist submerged in practical dialogue around colour has taught me to use an instinctive and sensitive approach. Observing reactions to my artwork informs how I use colour in my architectural projects” (p.172-173, Textile Visionaries by Bradley Quinn).
According to her own blog, Significant Colour; “having trained as a weaver and specialised in making hand dyed and woven architectural, one off artworks to commission she then expanded her practice to include designing commercial Ikat fabrics and products”.
I’m particularly interested in her collaborations and consultations for architectural spaces; specifically those for Hospitals or around Health Care. In 2008, Mann was commissioned to create a series of artworks for the, Save the Baby Unit at St.Mary’s Hospital London. She produced 16 woven panel’s which were used across the unit, in consultation rooms and reception areas. For me what’s special about this is the use of craft to create as Mann herself describes, ‘a warm and inviting un-hospital like space where visitors would feel relaxed and almost ‘at home’. I think and hope there is a trend in health care towards utilising artists and makers to help create spaces which enable patient recovery through a strategically calming and welcoming environment.
Do they adhere to the ideas of Slow Design? To what extent does this allow them to take risks, experiment and innovate?
This is a tricky question to consider. I think to some degree her work as a weaver fits within some of the ideas of Slow Design particularly when it comes to issues of sustainability or consideration of people. In conversation with Bradley Quin she touches upon this subject saying;
‘Weaving itself is a sustainable practice in itself…It has a long history behind it, and it combines yarns and fibres in an efficient way that makes them durable and strong. I have had long discussions with various eco experts about sustainable yarns. To be truly environmentally friendly, they have to be dyed with natural pigments. Ironically, most natural dyes require a huge quantity of ingredients to make them’ (p.173 Textile Visionaries by Bradley Quinn).
Even the practice of weaving, and dying her own fabric is of a ‘slow’ nature, slow yes in pace, but also in the amount of care, practice a skill needed to produce fabrics of such brilliance. She is clearly not a rushed maker.
Further evidence of an ethical and sustainable approach is clear in her “emphasis on quality, local partnerships and artisan – scale production runs is building a business model for small scale practitioners that works” (p.174 Textile Visionaries by Bradley Quinn).
Her collaboration with former ethical fashion brand designer, Eloise Grey, to create silk garments from organic fibre and using digital printing methods to add colour and pattern to the fabric produced very little waste or water pollution.
Is their story or the story of their work important? Why?
Whilst Mann’s website does not give a large amount of space to her personal story, there are a few things that lead me to believe she does invest partly in the idea of sharing processes and that being a form of story telling. She uses twitter, @PtolemyMann and Instagram – ptlomeymann in a fix of formal/informal snapshots of her life. There’s images of her weaving in progress, alongside photographs of colours in nature and personal family photo’s. These to me are evidence of sorts of a desire to share some of her story with the public and consumers in general.
Alongside these social media platforms she also writes her own musings on personal projects and inspirations on her blog, Significant Colour. It’s really through this platform that more of the story is communicated, particularly her thoughts on colour and textiles.
Do you value ‘craft’ and craftsmanship? Why or why not?
Yes I value craftsmanship. On a personal level it’s a part of my own developing practice, as an artist/designer/maker. I enjoy working on personal projects creating linocut or relief based prints, so I think that falls into the category of craftsmanship; I’ve been learning for the past 3 years, I still have much more to learn, so it’s really a long term goal.
I like the way that craft tends to go hand in hand with story telling or at least a stronger connection between the maker and the object produced. I like to hear who has made a piece, why, their methods, that kind of thing fascinates me. I think there’s also an accessibility in crafts which is not always present in Fine Art. The Fine Art world can often seem to be shrouded in pretence and exclusivity, it’s a small circle of people, who don’t seem to want to share their practice. But crafts are something people can pick up and engage with, simply with their hands. I’m not saying a hobby is the same as a profession here – but I am saying that the world of ‘craft’ seems to invite people to participate in a way the world of Fine Art does not (that’s a generalisation, I hope there are exceptions to this!).
Is there room for craft in modern society?
Yes! Here’s an interesting discussion on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour; A Celebration of Craft, aired 6/04/2015. Ptolemy Mann and Donna Wilson both feature as interviewee’s on the programme. The programme really touches upon a few key things which I think are behind why craft is relevant to modern society;
- In an increasingly digitally connected world has lead some to search for more practical or hands on connection craft offers this.
- Social Media has given a new platform for the kind of story’s and processes behind crafts which people seem to be desiring at the moment.
- For health/well-being – there’s something about working with your hands which allows the mind to switch focus. I have run simple card making workshops in a local hospital and found that as patients entered a session distressed or downhearted doing a simple activity led to a lifting of their mood and calming.
- From a sustainability point of view – the more people are skilled in making or mending (particularly in relation to textiles) the less waste there is. In our society anything which reduces the waste we create is a good thing!
- People still have homes to fill, clothes to wear, gifts to buy – a product made by a craftsman offers something with a much more personalised history.
I think that’s enough consideration on that topic so I’ll leave my thoughts here!