Kym Cooper mooches around Manchester’s annual contemporary craft fair and finds an answer to a parental conundrum.
Contemporary art and craft in Manchester, in the form of buyer’s fairs and artist-led activity, seem to be bedding in. Last month the Buy Art Fair celebrated its fifth birthday with what was by all accounts a bumper year; this month the Great Northern Craft Fair also clocked up five years. The largest such event outside London, the fair showcases original work by leading artisans from the world of ceramics, woodwork, textiles, craft, paper, needlecraft and jewellery. Which is all well and good, but for me the test of their mettle was whether they’d supply the sort of Christmas present that’d do it for my mum. She isn’t the world’s easiest person to buy for, and I was on a serious mission.
Despite the size of the craft fair (160 exhibitors, 6,000 visitors), the atmosphere was relaxed – no big crowds to battle through and an interior spacious enough to ensure that everything stands out. Talking of which, the first display to catch my eye was a wall of intricately painted paper owls. Perched on illustrated trees and mixed with real branches, they were the work of sculptor Kate Kelly, an artist who began experimenting with paper at university and stuck with it as paper “is a very unrestricted medium; it bends and folds to any shape, it is easily coloured and textured in many different ways, it is cheap and humble and always on hand”. Kelly’s birds stood out thanks to their very on-trend quirkiness – but far too twee for my mum’s exacting tastes.
“Paper is an unrestricted medium; it bends and folds to any shape, it is humble and always on hand.”
As with the Buy Art Fair, what’s refreshing here is that the artists are easy to talk to, and more than happy to give an insight into their work. If I hadn’t felt so terribly British I may even have been tempted to haggle with them. As it was, artist Liliane Taylor’s textile illustrations solved my problem as to what to buy: like a sitcom in embroidery, she creates instantly recognisable tableaux (think two women having a gossip over coffee) that are brought to life via detailed stitching. Bingo. Taylor’s work might be squarely aimed at the mum’s market but it works for me (and more importantly, my ma). Job done, there’s time left to work out what to buy for myself… an early Christmas present, if you like.
The Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair ran 4-7 October 2012 and will return again next autumn. For more contemporary craft, head over to the Manchester Craft and Design Centre. If jewellery is your thing, Dazzle returns to Manchester on 18 November (until 31 December 2012, Royal Exchange Theatre). Like paper-based craft? Read our feature on the paper-cutting artists in The First Cut, a jaw-dropping exhibition of paper-based work by 31 international artists.
Images (top to bottom): visitors to the craft fair in 2011, courtesy Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair; Kate Kelly’s barn owls, courtesy the artist.