The select few

Polly Lyster

Polly Lyster - Credit: Archant

Stroud International Textiles, and the annual select festival, celebrate the very finest work from artists, makers and designers and bring them to the Cotswolds. Candia McKormack talks to organisers Lizzi Walton and Charlotte Abrahams about plans for this year’s event

Charlotte Abrahams

Charlotte Abrahams - Credit: Archant

The last time I met up with Lizzi Walton, around two years ago, I was struck by what an incredible force of nature she was. Pretty much single-handedly she was running Stroud International Textiles (SIT) from her Stroud studio cum office. How does one woman run a year-round programme of events supporting artists, designers and makers and then organise ‘select’, an internationally celebrated annual exhibition, bringing talents from around the globe to the Cotswolds?

Lizzi Walton of Stroud International Textiles

Lizzi Walton of Stroud International Textiles - Credit: Archant

This year I’m pleased – and more than a little relieved, for Lizzi’s sake – to meet up with not only the lady herself, but also ‘right-hand man’ and resident blogger, established stylist, journalist and author Charlotte Abrahams. So, over a cup of coffee upstairs at Woodruffs café in Stroud, I manage to pin down the ludicrously busy pair to find out more about select 2014.

Armed with her laptop full of designers, PDF proofs and head buzzing with plans for the colossus she’s created, Lizzi explains, “A thread running through this year is design and craft. We have a symposium at Stroud College with the most extraordinary speakers coming here...”

Charlotte continues, “It’s a full day, so we’ll have keynote speakers such as Simon Pengelly, Nick Munro, Grant Gibson and Mary Greensted discussing what the terms craft and design mean today. Is the distinction still relevant and where do the two merge?”

At the seminar later in the day, ceramicist Michael Eden, who uses new technology to create his pieces, and Cotswold-based basket maker Susan Early will be discussing whether craft has to be handmade. They will be joined by wallpaper designer Tracy Kendall, Harriet Wallace-Jones, director of Wallace Sewell, and others to join in the debate.

“It’s going to be the most wonderful day,” says Lizzi, “and it does link through to the exhibition we’re staging at The Wilson in Cheltenham. It’s really exciting; we’re in the Arts & Crafts Collections Room next to beautiful pieces by iconic makers and designers, and there will also be a day of talks there on April 5.

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“It is quite a scoop for SIT and for the region in general to have this level of designer coming here.”

Obviously Stroud International Textiles and select have a great reputation in the world of craft and design, but it’s still very impressive they’ve managed to get such luminaries of the design world to come to this little corner of the world. How on earth has this small but dedicated team managed it, I wonder.

“We approached them,” says Charlotte. “I’ve been writing about design for a very long time so they’re all people I’ve worked with, and of course they also knew about SIT. But it does show how Lizzi has managed to get SIT to go far beyond the Stroud region. Then, once you get a few good names on board, people think ‘ooh, that looks good’ and want to be involved too.”

“Being a regional organisation, but reaching beyond, is what we do is attract people to the area,” says Lizzi, “We’re raising the profile of Stroud and the area enormously, but the quality of work is what does that ultimately. The fact that these people are coming to the area give Stroud and the surrounding area kudos, just like the Cheltenham festivals have done for Cheltenham.”

Charlotte has lived here for around ten years now, sharing her time between her London base and the Cotswolds, but since last summer she made the move here permanently. As both were moving in similar circles, she and Lizzi did know each other, but it was only after making the move full-time to Cotswold life that she thought she’d be able to commit her time wholeheartedly to a local project. And so, after seeing a tweet from Lizzi asking for a blogger, she got in touch. The synchronicity, as Charlotte explains, was uncanny.

“I only look at Twitter two or three times a day, so the chance of me seeing Lizzi’s message, among all the other messages on there, was pretty small.”

You can understand Lizzi’s joy at having such a talent on her team, and it’s clear the two have much in common and most definitely share the vision of what SIT and, specifically, select should be achieving. Each year the festival has been growing at an impressive rate and so it’s a credit to Lizzi that she’s been able to keep all the cogs of this well-oiled machine working as beautifully as they have since its inception. And this year, the addition of National Trust-owned Newark Park to the main select venues is one that Lizzi is quite clearly delighted with.

“It’s so exciting to be using Newark Park; it’s such a charming, magical place. There are about 30 extraordinary makers, exhibiting everything from ceramic to wood. There are also seven site-responsive artists, making pieces inspired by Newark Park, specifically for the exhibition. It’s such a wonderful place, so it’s very exciting.”

Both Lizzi and Charlotte are very keen to support the work of University of Gloucestershire students, too, and one of the additions to this year’s itinerary is a ‘vox pop’ booth being organised by student Scott Morris. All day on May 17, the public can be filmed giving their views on design, and the videos will then go online to enhance other videos in which Charlotte interviews Wayne Hemingway, Ian Rudge and Ella Doran.

The videos and other interactive content is set to appear on SIT’s new ‘app’, called a ‘Living Brochure’, which will help breathe life into the online experience. Users of the app will be able to click on an image and be whizzed off to a relevant mini-film or interview. The plan is to carry on updating the app after the festival so that subscribers will continue to receive the latest news, images and videos from the organisation.

“Hopefully all this will help put the Cotswolds on the map for textiles and fine craft; that’s always been one of my aims,” says Lizzi.

Yes, there’s no denying we really are fortunate to have such a world-class festival in the Cotswolds. I urge you to get your hands on one of the informative and beautifully illustrated brochures and start planning your visits.

For more information on what’s happening across the Cotswolds as part of select 2014, visit www.sitselect.org

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select 2014 – craft at its best: April 4-May 31

It’s impossible to list here everything that’s going on as part of select, but here are the key dates, and we recommend you get hold of the excellent guide:

• ‘selected’ at Newark Park: April 23-June 8

• ‘designing craft making for pleasure’ at The Wilson, Cheltenham: April 4-May 31

• ‘shadow and line’ at Museum in the Park, Stroud: April 27-May 26

• Select Trail: May 10/11 and 17/18

• Symposium at Stroud College: May 17

• Day of talks at The Wilson, Cheltenham: April 5

• Students in Stroud (shop window displays by Hereford College of Art students): April 26-May 25

• Mini-coach trips around the Select Trail (tickets £6 per trip; call 01453 751056 or book online): May 10 & 11

www.sitselect.org