A Norwegian Field Trip

By Natalie Melton, Co-Founder of The New Craftsmen

Since starting The New Craftsmen in 2012, one of the great pleasures of the business has been the international links we have forged with others who share our desire to ensure craft thrives and flourishes in the 21st century.

One such organisation has been Norwegian Crafts, who were established by the Norwegian government to promote the country’s craft makers on an international scale.

Exhibition at KRAFT Gallery, Bergen, Norway Exhibition at KRAFT Gallery, Bergen, Norway

This small, though extremely dynamic organisation has not only showcased Norwegian craft on a global stage, but also runs a programme to bring international visitors to Norway to meet with their makers first hand through an intensive programme of studio visits, exhibitions and craft ‘speed dating’.

I was lucky enough to be invited to join the 2018 field trip. Over the course of four intense days I met with a multitude of people in both Bergen and Oslo, as part of the B-open and Oslo Open Studio weekends, where both cities encourage local artists to open their studios to the public.

Norwegian ceramicist Heide Bjorgen experiments with form and finish for her distinctive pieces Norwegian ceramicist Heide Bjorgen experiments with form and finish for her distinctive pieces

The climate and context for making is completely different in Norway to the UK and the differences were quite stark. In both cities the studios were large, generously proportioned and affordable. There is a system of funding there that enables artists the time and space to fully pursue their work. Many we met with had been recipients of scholarships and grant funding that gave them a degree of financial security and enabled them to focus on experimentation and developing their practice.

It was an incredibly rich and intense few days, with unlimited access to a small, but thriving ecosystem of artists and makers. Many of their studios are connected or close together (rippling right through the centre of Oslo and beyond), they are passionate about what they do and have a relentless desire to make the most dynamic, considered, significant work that they can.

Many craft makers in Norway are supported by government funding Many craft makers in Norway are supported by government funding

Most artists in Norway have the opportunity to work on large scale public commissions at some stage in their career. A 1% public art commitment on all civic construction means that commissions are plentiful and enable makers to work at scale as part of their regular practice. Many of the portfolios I saw also had commissions within public institutions- galleries and museums seem to commission work frequently, creating strong dialogues between the old and the new.

However, whilst the public support of craft is strong, then this is perhaps necessarily so because the market for sales and commissions is at best limited in Norway. Only a few artists I spoke to had their own client base and private market for their work, those that did seemed to have done this through showing their work internationally and being picked up by galleries in other markets. Work is judged and appraised by merit, not economic value.

It left me feeling quite sad that our own arts ecosystem of support has been hollowed out so much over the last few years and what a pressure it puts on those who must juggle the desire to make with the needs to survive – particularly in London. It made me proud of organisations such as Cockpit, who are a beacon of hope in a city decimating its artist workspace right now.

Most thrillingly, it highlighted some of the strong parallels between lines of enquiry of our own makers and those that I met in Norway, and was wonderful to share stories of our own makers, and see them getting as excited about their work as I was. It left me energized, enriched, and incredibly proud to be part of a growing international movement to increase the visibility & profile of exceptional craft makers across the globe.

The looms on which Franz Petter Schmidt weaves his fabric (right) and textile art by Boghild Unneland (left) The looms on which Franz Petter Schmidt weaves his fabric (right) and textile art by Boghild Unneland (left)

Highlights from the tour

Heide Bjorgen

A ceramicist and curator, I was familiar with Heide’s work by sight but loved having the chance to learn more about the curatorial practice. Her ceramics are playful, colourful, and display both a fascination with form and finish – employing a variety of shapes – often in a single work, and a broad palette of glaze colours and finishes.

Boghild Unneland

There was a sense of ritual to entering Boghild’s studio, a light filled space with the mountains as a backdrop. Fragments of her textile work sit side by side with the tools or everyday use. Small garments, dipped in concrete dot the space, like shadows punctuating her workspace. We sat with coffee as she lifted a blanket from a chair, revealing a messy pile of clothes that had been dipped in concrete and were slowly drying.

Franz Petter Schmidt

Working from an 18th century workhouse in the centre of Oslo, Franz is painstakingly documenting the decline of the textile industry in Norway through archive research and material reconstruction, using archive documents to reproduce fabrics woven over a hundred years ago and brings them back to life through collaborating with an ethical fashion brand in Norway. He works on the same looms that were used by prisoners put to work as part of their rehabilitation, and the space is rich with the layers of its history.

Hanne Friss Schmidt

Hanne is a textile artist who sculpts monumental works from fabric and stitch, using her own body to inform the shapes of her work, working instinctively for extended periods of time. Her work has been presented extensively in galleries and museums across Norway, and later this year she will take a series of new pieces to Mexico as part of an exhibition of Norweigan Artists.

Discover the inspiration, technique and process of our talented makers working across the UK and Ireland by exploring their pages.