Harewood House launches a landmark cultural event for the nation’s ‘makers and doers’

Great British Life: The beautifully-crafted 18th century house provides the perfect backdrop for the work of modern makersThe beautifully-crafted 18th century house provides the perfect backdrop for the work of modern makers (Image: supplied)

There was a time, not so very long ago, when the best way to clear the room at a party was to out yourself as ‘a crafter’. Barely had the words ‘crochet’ or ‘whittle’ left your lips than all the over-stayers were in an Uber and there was a clear path to the precious remaining beige bits and bobs on the buffet table.

Now, however, things have changed. Being a crafter is cool and we can’t seem to get enough of people stitching, chiseling and folding on TV (usually accompanied by Kirstie Allsopp in a frock that looks like she knocked it up out of some old curtains but actually cost £997 from a Kensington boutique), on YouTube and at meet-the-maker events around the country.

So, why are we so interested in craft today? This is the question the inaugural Harewood Biennial seeks to answer when it launches a vibrant new season at Harewood House in Leeds this month.

Great British Life: Harewood House in Leeds prepares for its groundbreaking craft biennialHarewood House in Leeds prepares for its groundbreaking craft biennial (Image: supplied)

The first exhibition is Useful/Beautiful: Why Craft Matters, which aims to challenge preconceptions, spark interest and inspire debate about the role craft can play in culture, identity and society. At a time when there is a surge of interest in craft (from the supermarket to the catwalk), there is also confusion – is it a product or a process? Is it always handmade? Is it just a marketing buzzword?

Visitors to Harewood will experience a visual discussion of all these thoughts (and more) by some of the most exciting British-based makers of the moment. Each of the 26 nationally and internationally exhibitors has been invited to interpret a different room using their particular craft, spanning fashion, textiles, woodwork, glass, metalwork, furniture, papercraft and leather.

Highlighting Yorkshire’s wealth of skilled talent, five of the showcase exhibitors are based in the county. Distinguished names include Wakefield paper artist and illustrator Andy Singleton, Sheffield-born ceramicist Lena Peters and Whitby glass maker Effie Burns, whose work will sit alongside that of statement printmaker Anthony Burrill, Welsh sustainable fabric-makers Hiut Denim, whose jeans are worn by the Duchess of Sussex, Freed dance shoes and Fox Umbrellas, favoured by Mary Poppins actress Emily Blunt.

Curated by design critic Hugo Macdonald, who writes for several international titles and consults with clients as varied as Airbnb, Erdem, Instagram and Ikea, the exhibition crosses generations and disciplines, mixing classic and contemporary against the unique backdrop of Harewood House.

‘This is one of our most ambitious projects to date,’ said Jane Marriott, Harewood House Trust director. ‘Together with a wider programme of workshops, demonstrations, symposia and events, Useful/Beautiful will be a fully immersive and visually striking exhibition for the first six months of our season, across all rooms in the house and extending outside, offering a vibrant and playful new perspective and experience for visitors.’

Harewood House itself is renowned for the craftsmanship that built and furnished it in the 18th century, using the most skilled architects, designers and makers of the time including Chippendale, Robert Adam and Capability Brown. It seems highly appropriate then that, as part of the biennial, Harewood is working with three renowned British designers on exciting new commissions, each showcasing craftsmanship in a different way and each specific to the house.

These will be revealed – alongside many more crafty treats – at Useful/Beautiful: Why Craft Matters, which runs from March 23d to September 1st.

For further details, visit harewood.org.