A Portrait of Place: The New Craftsmen at Holkham Hall

Freya Bramble-Carter and Pallas Kalamotusis 

Earlier this year, The New Craftsmen invited five of its makers on a residency to the historic Holkham Hall on the north Norfolk coast to explore and creatively respond to the rich narratives of history, culture and aesthetic style embedded in the estate. Over five days, the makers were inspired by Holkham’s cast of characters and experts, both past and present; its decorative upstairs; pared-back downstairs; the outhouses; surrounding 25,000 acres; its values and progressive outlook, and were commissioned by The New Craftsmen to interpret it through the medium of craft. The result is an idiosyncratic collection of hand-crafted pieces - entitled ‘A Portrait of Place’ - that will be exhibited at Holkham Hall from 9th - 13th September before travelling down to London to The New Craftsmen showroom in Mayfair for London Design Festival and available to purchase online.

This year’s residency at Holkham Hall is the second ‘A Portrait of Place’ by The New Craftsmen after the first iteration took place in Orkney in 2019. Speaking about the project’s origins, Catherine Lock, Creative Director at The New Craftsmen, explains:

“Over the years, we have built close relationships with our makers; we are continually having invaluable discussions with them about their practice, business and creative ambitions, which is a central part of our role at The New Craftsmen. From these conversations and understanding their ambitions, we initiated the ‘Portrait of Place’ biennial project. The idea is to invite a small group of makers to take time away from their studios to immerse themselves creatively and intellectually in worlds that unlock a flurry of ideas and help fuel their imagination. During the residency, we encourage them to explore new - or push existing - techniques and design concepts.”

In addition, the purpose behind the biennial residency is to examine how craft can tell a story of a place: in this instance, how The New Craftsmen makers can evoke the distinct spirit of Holkham - its craft traditions, material palette, influential decorative history and the personal and cultural narratives contained within it - through their skills and imaginations. The notion that craft can depict a portrait of a place has long been a fascination of Catherine Lock and a driving force behind founding the company in 2012 after travelling the British Isles and meeting regional makers.

Holkham is a thriving rural estate set on one of the most beautiful stretches of the north Norfolk coastline with a clear vision: to be the most pioneering and sustainable estate in the UK. Built in the mid-18th century by Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester, Holkham Hall is rich in stories of craft; from being a masterpiece of Palladian architecture with its impressive Staffordshire alabaster hall to the no less impressive yet utilitarian ice-house, blacksmithery and brickworks found in the grounds. Catherine says:

“Built in the 1750s when the role and status of the Arts were under examination in Britain, Holkham - the hall and its expansive estate - is a man-made masterpiece created from one man’s vision in the Age of Enlightenment. It was a time when philosophy and science were being energetically debated in salons and coffeehouses, and the concept of taste was explored. From the gilded pier glasses in the main house to the wading spoonbills on the nature reserve, this Palladian stately-family home and farm has opened up an abundance of narratives, which our makers have channelled through their unique new works. It’s truly captivating to see.”

The New Craftsmen at Holkham

The five craftspeople selected for this year’s ‘A Portrait of Place’ are Alfred Newall, Arjan Van Dal, James Rigler, Laura Carlin and Mac Collins. Working closely with Catherine Lock and with the guidance and expertise of the team at The New Craftsmen and the Holkham Estate, each maker has worked to develop a piece or a collection - from lighting and furniture, to mirrors and decorative statements - inspired by their week at Holkham Hall.

The Countess of Leicester says: “Craft plays a central role at Holkham and we are fortunate enough to be surrounded by the work of talented craftspeople from the 18th century onwards, living and interacting with it every day. It was energising to see today’s fine British makers following in the footsteps of their predecessors - ‘the old craftsmen’ - and interacting with Holkham’s heritage, history and landscape.This is the very first collaboration of its kind at Holkham and we are intrigued to see how The New Craftsmen makers have interpreted our family home for today’s consumer. We share with The New Craftsmen a respect for the past and those who came before us in order to move forward and have a place in the modern world.”

The north Norfolk coast has been a place of escape since Catherine’s childhood and her sights were set on Holkham Hall for this year’s residency, recognising the synergies with The New Craftsmen. Both are values-driven organisations with a shared respect for heritage and craft, matched with their boundless imaginations and ambitious visions of their roles and the impact they can have now and in the future.

The New Craftsmen at Holkham

The New Craftsmen ‘A Portrait of Place’ exhibition at Holkham Hall will take place from 9th - 13th September 2021, before travelling to The New Craftsmen showroom in Mayfair for London Design Festival (18 - 26 September).