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Anne, a public worker in Sheffield, has been collecting since her teens, although she didn’t realise she was a collector till recently. She spoke to Janet Paske. For a quick preview of what Anne would collect, here’s her personal collection.
1. Do you consider yourself a collector of contemporary craft? If so, how does that make you feel?
I probably didn’t consider myself a collector till I met you, but yes, I guess so. I have collected a few things along the way because I’ve always liked crafty and arty things. I suppose if I have a spare bit of money that’s what I like to buy, not because it’s going to increase in value but because I see things that I like and make me feel good.
When other people appreciate what you like or value your tastes and interests, then that heightens my interest and my passion. And over the last 10-15 years, I’ve had a little more income to spend. I’ve appreciated that’s it not just a bit of a whim. It’s something that I really like; I enjoy collecting lots of different things. But I know what I like and I know what I don’t like.
Realising I am collector makes me feel a bit worried really. I suppose I think it’s a bit odd because it sounds pretentious. I have this horrible thought in my head ….it makes me think of Saatchi going around buying up lots of stuff. I hate all that. I’m not really a showy person. Anything I have has purely been for me or my home, or has meant something for myself, my partner or my son. In my head, collectors aren’t people like you or me. I see them more like Saatchi, the aristocracy or people who have lots of disposable income who buy not because they like things but because they can have them and they don’t necessarily share them.
I have some Royal Copenhagen plates from many years ago, which may be worth something. Someone once joked that they might be worth more than I thought, but I’d never think of selling them. Could they accrue in value? I couldn’t go and buy something because of that. They have to mean something to me. It’s more about having meaning for me, than the financial aspect. It does seem weird to me, being a collector.
2. Tell us a little about the contemporary craft you have. What does your collection include?
It sounds really grand when you call it a collection. It’s not that grand.
I’ve inherited a few nice things that have sentimental value which has then led on to my appreciation of more contemporary stuff. When I first started collecting, the makers such as Emma Bridgewater tended not to be not well known, whereas now some have become so mainstream; in my early 20s no-one had them.
I have some jewellery which I bought years ago with birthday money from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park . Then I saved up for some pieces from “Washing Line Woman”, as I call her, Jenni Wilson, a silversmith in Birmingham. At the time she was relatively unknown but she has become more and more popular. I have recently bought some Ruth Moilliett flowers from Cupola, and feel responsible for a small increase in her sales as several friends have done the same.
There’s a lovely gallery in Marazion in Cornwall where I remember buying my lovely blackbird necklace. But now everyone has one; they’re all over the place. On the one hand it validates that you have a good eye, but on the other hand, I really liked it when I was the only person who had that bird on the wire. You can buy them in the Millenium Galleries.
3. So how do you decide what to buy?
I guess that comes down to money usually. But things like holidays and places that I associate with nice things and good times really so St Ives, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Welbeck Christmas Craft Fair, Broomhill Sculpture Gallery in Devon, places that I associate with nice – not necessarily a good word - tasteful, different arty things and, that in turn when you’re on holiday or visiting places, I’d probably raid my piggy bank if I found something I really liked.
Some things I decide in consultation, so for pictures for example, I’d discuss it with my partner. For others, such as a tiny piece of Bernard Leach or a piece of contemporary jewellery costing less than £20, I might be more impulsive.
In terms of pictures or the clocks, it’s very much a joint exercise. I wouldn’t want anything around my home which my family didn’t like.
4. Do you visit studios as part of your collecting? If so, what makes your visits interesting?
Usually I go to places that I am familiar with; I’d need to know that they had something I’d like, like Cupola or mainstream galleries, such as the Tate, Yorkshire Sculpture Park or the Millenium Gallery, which have a gallery/ shop attached.
It is about confidence, money and interest.
I guess this is really personal, I think there’s a real mystique about, a real class thing about it but I think there are some places where it is dead easy and acceptable to see contemporary craft such as the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where it’s public, you’re welcome, it’s part of a day looking at other things, it’s educative, there’s a real attempt to appeal to the masses albeit that there would be some key pieces, perhaps needing OwnArt [the scheme where people can get an interest free loan to buy art and craft].
5. What was the first thing you bought and what attracted you to it?
I started buying mugs and cups and saucers as far back as when I was 16 or 17. We had a brilliant shop in Hexham, Pinfold, that was ahead of its time, showcasing up and coming makers. It opened when I was in 6th Form. Pinfold stocked Emma Bridgewater and Nicolas Mosse Pottery; they all have that stamped sponged design. They all originate from around 1980-82. My friend and I used to treat each other.
6. Tell us about your favourite piece of contemporary craft.
I’ve always liked clocks and I bought one of our first ones about 14 years ago, made by a guy called Chris Brammer from the Lake District. It’s my favourite because it’s really simple, funky, very solid, tactile. It’s got one big foot and 2 other smaller feet; it’s all metal. The second hand is like a coiled spring. No face, just plain, you have to guess the number. It’s really solid, chunky. There’s something really robust about it, there’s no finesse, a sturdy, solid bit of craft. And I can see exactly how he’s developed his work, smoothing his lines and making things bigger and more industrial.
I spoke with his father one year and he was quite envious of me. He said that he didn’t have such a clock, so I should really look after it. Chris is now a major architectural contemporary sculptor who has, for example, designed much of Leopold Square in Sheffield. He designed the bins and the stair rails, and he’s created some of the sculptures on Sustrans’ national cycle routes. That makes it even more interesting for me, to see how makers develop and evolve. I get some pleasure out of knowing that others appreciate talent too.
7. How do you go about finding contemporary craft?
Word of mouth, from my friends, the Sculpture Park, Welbeck. Sometimes I‘ll see something I like then I’ll go and look it up. Every now and then I search for Chris Brammer and Jennie Wilson and see if there is anything new but I wouldn’t buy it unless I really liked it, not for the sake of it. It tends to be when I’m on holiday so many holidays in Cornwall have influenced my finding of contemporary craft.
I think it’s also about finding things by chance, so discovering about the Harley Gallery through a friend made me think “Whoa…there’s somewhere else to go”.
8. Tell us about one of your favourite makers. What connects you to their work and why are they a favourite?
It would be Chris Brammer. There is something warming about the fact that he’s done really well. There are the connections with the Lake District, connections with the north, where I am from. And it’s a very unpretentious clock. And it works, it still works.
9. Obstacles such as money and space aside, what piece of contemporary craft would you most like to have?
There’s a place in Devon called Broomhill Sculpture Gallery, which I‘ve been to twice over the years, both times accidently, once in the rain. They had an exhibition of a bronze sculptor. The sculpture was in grey metal – it is probably bronze I think – and it reminds me of Degas’ ballerina, but it wasn’t a ballerina. There’s something really haunting about it. I bought 3 or 4 postcards of it which I still have. I thought “When I’m 50 I’m going to buy that” but it’s probably way out of my league. There’s just something really appealing about it but I don’t remember what; I had to be dragged out of the gallery still looking at it. There was something about the way this figure was; it just was fab. This is what I hate about art, not being able to find the words. I haven’t looked online for it for a while; there was a time when I used to look. Perhaps I’ll do that when I go home?
10. Do you have a tip for aspiring collectors?
It’s about knowing what you like and don’t like. That’s what’s brilliant about it, everyone has their own tastes.
If you’re wondering what Anne’s taste is like, here’s her personal collection.
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