Building audiences in craft

 14 April 2014

Julia Rowntree and Duncan Hooson run Clayground Collective, an organisation which inspires people to dig for clay and create crafts. After winning a Craft Skills Award, they were able to fund their future work.

"In order to collaborate with people beyond your field you need to have sufficient experience in your own area." Image: James Fletcher

Clayground Collective was established to encourage more people to work with their hands and consider the craft of ceramics as a career option. 

They are best known for Project Clay, which invites people in over 200 countries to dig for clay and relay it to London. They also dig clay and work creatively in London and other UK cities with a diverse mix of young people and adults, and a range of institutions. 

The international and local clays they are collecting will be incorporated into participatory public artworks in 2015.

Developing passions for craft

Although they started off in separate fields, Julia and Duncan were brought together by their passion for craft skills. They choose to highlight the relevance of craft through the medium of pottery.

Duncan grew up in Stoke-on-Trent in a family with history of working in the pottery trade. He studied Ceramics at Bristol University and went on to do an MA in the subject.

Just do it. If you’ve got an ambition or idea, just begin.

His has worked for 20 years at Morley College, London, where he is Head of Ceramics. He also teaches at Central Saint Martins where he is responsible for first year Ceramic Design. 

Julia had a successful career in international theatre development when she decided to focus in on her passion for craft. She was an amateur potter for many years before teaming up with Duncan to form Clayground Collective.

Winning a Craft Skills Award

In 2013, Clayground Collective won the ‘Engaging new and diverse audiences in craft skills’ award at the Craft Skills Awards.

“Winning the Craft Skills Awards came at a fantastically opportune moment for us. We were in the process of creating an ambitious project, 'Clay Cargo’, linking London, Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent via the canal system as part of our international venture Project Clay.

"Pioneer ceramic industrialist Josiah Wedgwood was one of the first investors in the canals, and we wished to renew these historical links by creating activities on boats and canalside locations.

"We invited people to take part in clay workshops and activities, encouraging them to explore the potential of working with their hands, thereby raising the profile of craft."

Putting money back into craft projects

The recognisition that came with the Craft Skills Awards and the accompanying prize money enabled Clayground Collective to raise further funds.

Although already commissioned by the British Ceramics Biennial and the Canal & River Trust to create an installation of work made by participants, the award money helped Clayground realise their vision.

Through winning the award came national recognition of us as experts in the field of participatory ceramic practice.

Clay Cargo activities, partly supported by the Award, created a platform for future work. Building upon relationships formed through the awards, Julia and Duncan have been able to plan for future activities, working with new people to develop the potential of the craft sector still further.

"Through winning the award came national recognition of us as experts in our field of participatory ceramic practice. This recognition has allowed us to take forward our artistic vision in a very significant way."

Advice for working in collaborative craft 

Julia and Duncan give their top tips for working in collaborative craft:

  1. Just do it. If you’ve got an ambition or idea, just begin
  2. Collaborate with other people across discipline, artform and organisation
  3. Be sure why you’re taking a specific approach and be sure of your value.
  4. Build up experience, testing principles step by step. 
  5. Widen your understanding of what it is you want to do and others’ motivations.

The Craft Skills Awards are run every two years to celebrate key talent and developments within the craft sector.


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