This year I realised that the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair has become one of those events that measure the passing of time – you know, the ones where you say “I can’t believe it’s a full year since I was here last. Doesn’t time fly?”. It’s now in its fifth year and I have been to the last four, so, a bit like going to a small child’s birthday party, I have watched it grow up, learn to walk, develop a vocabulary and begin to define its personality.
Four years ago my visit was the result of a strange coincidence. My mum, in Nottingham, met Debbie Bryan the knit and jewellery designer on a bus. She struck up a conversation while giving her directions. Mum mentioned that I was studying textiles and lived in Salford. Debbie mentioned she was coming to GNCCF and invited me. I offered to help her set up. What an amazing insight into “behind the scenes” activity, and of her professionalism; from setting up her stall through to how to talk to customers. I met so many interesting artists and craftspeople that day, and was invited to the opening so I had chance to talk to them more in the evening.
My impressions of my first (their second) GNCCF are very subjective. I loved it! I was like a star struck fan, not only meeting the cast of the show, but being allowed back stage too! I was talking to the people who I had read about in the craft magazines, who I admired, who I wanted to be. So, trying to be objective four years later is a bit unrealistic.
The following year (2010) I went with my (now) husband. The goods on display were beautiful but there was something not quite right about it. The base of the marquee wobbled (and it was disconcerting to hear glassware chinking as we walked past), the cafe didn’t match up to the quality of goods on display, and there was a small add on marquee that we only found by accident. Having said that, all the vendors were friendly, the goods on display were of a high standard and we did buy the most expensive piece of craft we have ever bought, a glass wall panel from Lara Aldridge. I tend to go to a lot of textile making and selling shows on my own or with textile loving friends, so It was good to be at a show with my partner; it meant as we walked up to Lara Aldridge Glass we both went “Wow! I love that” and were able to sit down together in a cafe (outside the venue!) and discuss whether we could afford it between us…
By last year I knew some of the artists, had a better working knowledge of the craft world and had a small budget to spend. This time the fair was in an office building and so didn’t wobble, but in my opinion that was all it had going for it. Inside was cramped and crowded with low ceilings. Browsing was difficult once people were standing in front of the stalls. I had a chat with artists I knew, but otherwise had an overwhelming urge to get out, which I did, without spending any of my budget. There were no “Wow! I love that” moments.
And now we come to this year. What a difference! Just like a child growing up, GNCCF has found its feet. It was confident and sophisticated, no more wobbles, just a spring in its step. What a delight. The location was spot on, in a marquee but with far less wobble this time and the layout was great. The cafe was by the entrance, out of the way and accessible and three of Louise Gardiner’s stunning textile pieces from her series “You Blow Me Away” were exhibited – If you get the opportunity to see these in the future you really must make the effort to go. They are fantastic.
We went as guests of Claire Baker a ceramicist who we bought two little dishes from last year to keep our wedding rings in. The selectors had chosen an interesting mix of beautiful contemporary crafts of an exceptional standard. Their choice was sophisticated and stylish. Most of the pieces could easily stand on their own in a gallery, exhibition or in a contemporary home.
Claire was in the Hot House Alumni area, as was Jane Dzisiewski who I have commissioned a pair of bracelets from in the past. The joy of this year’s show was how much space there was. It didn’t feel overcrowded and cramped. I could walk along and see from afar without feeling jostled and also approach a stand to browse without having to push past people. Consequently there were a few “Wow! I love that” moments including a ceramic triptych wall piece by Jill Ford, a beautiful porcelain and steel vessel by Joanne Bowles, Catherine Chester’s Adelinda choker and Claire Baker’s most adorable little coffee cup with teaspoon handle decorated with tiny little thrushes.
In a way GNCCF has become a measure of my own creative growth. I can measure my own development by the changing conversations I have with the artists there. To stretch the child growing up metaphor just a little bit further, this year I realised it is time for me to take the stabilisers off my bike and get on with the task of riding it, even if it means I have to fall off!