Last weekend’s whistle-stop tour of Craft Festival Cheltenham was particularly inspiring and prompted this quick review. The overall standard of the fair was high with a good balance between the purely decorative and the beautiful and useful combined.
Craft Festival’s selection process seems to value both quality and originality of works. Makers and artists from various disciplines were represented and the show itself was welcoming, friendly and well-attended, hosted in Cheltenham’s elegant town hall.
This review is based on what appealed to me in the moment, with a focus on hand made, well made and stylish designs – I have limited coverage to my top ten designers, a difficult call.
I visited with a friend who was keen to introduce me to the work of Maria Frantzi and that did not disappoint. Frantzi just happened to have been awarded the ‘Best In Show’ rosette which was amply deserved (although the rudimentary rosette looked rather out of place on her chic stand).
Frantzi’s jewellery, created using a mix of gems and stones, some layered, features quirky detailing and unusually shaped settings. I was taken by several pieces, loving the mix of scales, stones and their colours, also admiring jewels that were adaptable, with adjustable length chains and pendants that turned into brooches.
The last stall I visited was also the first to catch my attention as we raced past trying to cover as many stands as possible. I returned to talk to Sue Bibby about her miniature stitched bird sculptures, which were a real delight. Sue mixes textiles, scraps and embroidery techniques to create tiny vignettes of seashore and other birds, perched on threaded fragments emulating rocks or foliage to add context.
Using completely different materials and more defined shapes, Rachel Higgins’ display also included birds. These were shown in an airy gallery style presentation alongside a variety of other keenly observed animal sculptures in non-ferrous metals. I really wanted to bring the bat home, its blend of wire, perforated and sheet metal textures lending it a dynamic baroque style.
More avian beauties nested amidst Anna Cook Paperart’s offerings. An original paper cut of a rook caught my eye (not literally ;)) alongside other birds and a skulk of foxes in different poses. Her multi-layered box framed paper works blend refinement with natural charm.
Joining the review flock in the finest style, master silversmith Brett Payne’s graceful silver swan scoop breathed understated elegance. Well known for the strikingly simple lines of his candelabra, here he explored new shapes and ideas, including a wonderful series of silver spoons in varying sizes.
Equally refined, G R Hawes’ stunning multi-hewed, hand blown glass ornaments beckoned. These were clear cut winners too as far as I was concerned, bold, richly coloured and eminently pleasing.
With a gentler more organic feel, Maggie Williams’ blown glass vases and jugs exhibited soulful curves and a luminous rainbow of translucent colours, alluringly grouped on her stand’s shelves (see above).
Working with the natural grain and contours of wood, Kevin Hutson’s smooth boxes had an oriental aesthetic, those blending black ash with brightly coloured lids capturing my attention.
Sumptuously intertwined earthy colours and complex patterned textures marked out James Donald’s tempting PickOne hand woven scarves, shawls and accessories.
Finishing off this review with the written word, Jennifer Collier’s Penguin Books paper jugs were both witty and wonderfully made. She uses salvaged pages and covers from damaged books and maps combined with stitching to create all sorts of decorative objects – I loved her cameras too.
Altogether a fabulous celebration of creativity and ingenuity, Craft Festival Cheltenham was well worth the vist. Check the makers’ websites below, and perhaps you will be fortunate enough to find that they are local, so you can arrange a visit to their studio or workshop. Otherwise look out for them at other fairs or visit Craft Festival’s next show at Mill Marsh Park, Bovey Tracey from 17-19 June 2022. For full details including exhibitors, check the organisers’ website.
Visit the artists and makers’ websites:
Anna Cook Paperart, Brett Payne, G R Hawes, James Donald PickOne, Jennifer Collier, Kevin Hutson, Maggie Williams Glass, Maria Frantzi Jewellery, Rachel Higgins, and Sue Bibby Embroidery.
Review text and images © Emma Boden, 2022