The annual Kunsthåndvækermarkedet, or Crafts Fair, was held just over a week ago on Frue Plads in Copenhagen - that is the large long open space on the east side of Nørregade with, on one side, the north front of Vor Fruhe Kirke ... the cathedral of Copenhagen ... and on the other side, the main building of the university.
The fair is organised by Danske Kunsthåndværkere (the Danish Craft Association) and this year it was open over three days with over 130 stalls displaying work by ceramicists, textile designers and carpet weavers, glass makers, and jewellers. Many of the exhibitors were from Copenhagen but exhibitors had come from all over Denmark and there was a goldsmith and a ceramic artist from Malmö and seven makers from Iceland.
Representing education and training in the crafts of ceramics and glass in Denmark there was a large display from the the Danmarks Designskole on the Baltic island of Bornholm - since 2011 a department of the Danish design school of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.
The works displayed ranged from modestly-priced pieces, that are meant to be used daily, to expensive and unique works that were aimed at serious collectors; the range of styles and the quality of the work and the very large number of visitors to the fair showed clearly that the work of craft designers and makers in Denmark has strong support.
Two prizes were awarded - the jury awarded the prize for the best new unique work to the jewellery designer Helle Bjerrum and the prize for best new product to Sally Xenia Christensen for her “beautiful and simple” drinking glasses.
What was interesting, above all, for me was to see how many exhibiting their work here have the same problems as product designers working in the furniture and ceramic and glass industries. That is not surprising because, clearly, there are no obvious demarcation lines: someone who produces a single piece and signs it is usually defined as an artist or, if working in wood or silver or clay, a craftsman; make ten or twenty similar pieces and you are a maker and presumably 100 or a 1,000 makes you a designer and thousands and thousands of identical pieces defines you as a product designer.
Also, of course, many crafts people had a formal training in design and then chose the freedom and independence of opening a workshop and many if not all “commercial” designers take as their starting point the knowledge and experience they gained in their training working directly with wood or wool or linen or silver or clay or glass to produce one-off pieces to understand completely the materials they are working with and to understand what can or cannot be done with those materials.
The divisions and definitions do not seem, to me, to be clearly defined or, come to that, strictly relevant. I spoke with a number of the makers or craftsmen at the fair and over the coming year I hope to profile a number of craft designers and craft galleries … to visit them to explore their attitudes, find out about their training or background and discuss the starting point and development of their work and their problems marketing and selling craft pieces.