1959-66? THE CRAFT ASSOCIATION OF THE ACTA social initiative by DFWon behalf of the Canberra Art Club and othershoused at Barton, ACT

Although the Canberra Art Club was the springboard for the initiation of the Griffin Centre in Civic, in time it was felt that the Centre was not quite suitable for the purposes of the Art Club (particularly for the potters and the weavers) and a move was made which resulted in the formation of the Craft Association of the ACT with its own premises in Aspinal St. Watson.

At the time Fred Ward, John Scollay and I had become dissatisfied with the loose use of the word “craftsman”as I had experienced with the woodworkers of the Wood Group in the ACT.

After much discussion of the commonly used and misunderstood terms of carpenter, joiner, cabinet maker and chair maker which differentiated woodworking skills we felt there should be three categories of woodworkers in the craft areas which took the important characteristic of design into consideration as well as the technical skills of ability to work wood in coarse or precise ways. Our argument also had to be based on the final overall quality of a construction in any medium – wood, metal, clay, fibre and so on.

We asked ourselves the fundamental question : “What is the purpose of a piece of craft work which is exquisitely made using the best of materials but is ugly in design ?”

We formulated three skill categories which distinguished between design, workmanship and craftsmanship which could be applied to any craft person :

Craft designer – the person who can design but can’t make in any consistent way – an industrial designer could often qualify and most of us in the Design Unit would have fitted into this category. The emphasis on consistency was, we felt, important, as many designers may probably make a passable one-off item, but be hard pressed to do it continually in any consistent and skilled way.

Craft maker – the person who can make but can’t design. There are many examples of craft
work around that are superbly made, but fall down, often badly, on the fundamental design – functionally and/or visually – of the object. In our opinion there was little value in making well-made but dysfunctional and/or ugly items. A person making such an object (or which has been designed
by others) should really be called a craft maker – but surely not a craftsman. Many furniture manufacturing contractors would fit into this category – they could be superb makers, precise and well able to produce small quantities economically from working drawings produced by others.
These are valuable members of the craft community, but we felt that they were not craftsmen in the complete meaning of the word.

But, there are now several people who can both design and make. These are the re-emerging true craftsmen, (or if you wish to be more politically correct – craftspeople or craftspersons). They would have the conceptual and manual skills to consistently design and make functional and elegant designs.

Needless to say these definitions did not always receive enthusiastic acclaim. There is a lot of personal clout embodied in any definition of your standing in society and no-one really likes to be socially downgraded.

However, I would classify myself as a craft designer simply because I could not consistently make any chair that I might design to the perfection that I would expect from a chair maker.

More precision is needed if we are to communicate effectively.