Behind the Book; Discovering the People who “Make: Cornwall” | Creator Series
When I opened my inbox to read an email from Anya Rice about a book titled “Make: Cornwall” showcasing the best of Cornish craft, even though I had my head in the sand doing wedding planning, I immediately knew I wanted to find out more. Over the course of the next few weeks, we chatted and decided that their story would be perfect for the Wilder Life Creator Series.
Anya and her writing partner Katherine Sorell have been in pre-production with “Make: Cornwall” for the last year. Their beautiful book includes the work and profiles of 25 Cornish based makers and artisans, all who are producing original and modern pieces across a huge range of disciplines, showcasing the best of creative talent from artisans that call Cornwall home.
Both Anya and Katherine moved to Cornwall and also fell in love with life here on the coast. Katherine was born in Hackney and lived in Essex before moving to Penzance in 2000, whilst Anya was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, growing up in Watkinsville, Georgia but has lived in Ponsanooth with her husband since 2013.
What brought you to Cornwall originally?
K: I came on holiday with a (now ex) boyfriend and fell in love with it. I had lived near the sea in Essex as a teenager, but the Cornish coast couldn’t be more different. It’s just so beautiful. And everyone has been so welcoming. I’ve made fantastic friends here and I never want to live anywhere else.
A: Some years ago, my husband got a place at Falmouth but turned it down to go to university in London. We were living in Oxford and looking for somewhere to move to, and he remembered hearing great things about Falmouth, and so we came down for a mini break and fell in love with it.
There are so many amazing creatives and makers in Cornwall, but not enough awareness around the rest of the UK about the talent that’s based here.
It’s always assumed that London or the big cities are where anything that matters creatively is happening. This is partly why I wanted to do the Creator Series – Was that the same feeling for you and is that why you wanted to create this project?
K: You’ve hit the nail on the head! To the casual tourist, Cornwall might seem like it’s only about pasties and piskies, or maybe traditional craft which we all know and love, but something that always amazes me is the incredible quality and diversity of contemporary work that is being produced down here – often in out-of-the-way places, sheds in back gardens, converted barns on farms, units in unlikely industrial estates.
Much of it sells nationally and internationally (maybe through Etsy, the maker’s own website or high-class retailers like Heal’s or Liberty) people realising its provenance, and in spite of all the difficulties that living so far away from the capital sometimes brings.
A: – I think Katherine has covered this question perfectly!
Where did the first idea for creating the book come from?
K: It was Anya’s idea. As soon as she mentioned it to me, I jumped on board. It was right up my street!
A: I’ve been photographing makers on and off since I moved to Cornwall, and a couple of years ago I started researching more makers to photograph for my personal work. When I discovered that so many other makers’ businesses had sprung up, I thought that there could be enough material for a book.
What was your process when creating the book?
K: It has been a long and involved process and has, so far, taken more than a year to get to where we are now. The first thing was to choose who to include (see below), and agree on a concept for the book as a whole, which will include images of the makers, their work, their tools and techniques, and their studios. We like to call it “portrait, process, place”.
I wrote some draft chapters and we talked to publishers (and are still doing so), then worked with a designer to come up with a concept for the page layouts. We also have an editor and book publicist ready, have chosen a printer, and hope to use a Cornish book distributor to get the books out to bookshops, galleries and gift shops from October. Eventually, we started to contact makers and began our series of photo shoots.
A: As Katherine mentioned it’s been a long and winding road to get to this point, but it’s wonderful to find that there is such a creative community in Cornwall. Regarding the shooting process – every shoot starts with a portrait of the maker and then we shoot several of the making processes. Then we normally do a series of photos of the space and the maker’s products. I’m not a natural reportage photographer, so I really enjoy the process of taking the time to set up shots and making the space and the products look as great as possible.
How did you choose who to include in the book?
K: It’s been incredibly difficult, and involved months and months of discussions and endless angst! There were so many amazing people we wanted to include and couldn’t, but hopefully, we’ll be able to do a sequel…
We wanted to include as many processes and/or materials as possible – so, ceramics (clay), textiles (cloth), and so on, but we tried to balance them so that we didn’t have too many of one particular type in the book.
We weren’t too concerned about where people were based, provided they work in Cornwall, and we didn’t mind if they were not full-time makers, but they all had to be professional, high quality and, in our eyes, producing contemporary work rather than anything overly traditional. They needed to catch our eye in some way. We did a great deal of online searching and looked endlessly at people’s websites and social media, and it was a balance of cool logic and sheer passion that informed our final choices.
How do you think Cornwall effects the subjects in your book, how does it shape their creative work?
K: This was another feeling we had about the book – I wouldn’t say it was a strict criteria, but we do feel that the makers probably wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing if they were based anywhere else in the country. It’s partly geographical and financial – where else would you find a huge barn that you could work in and not pay a really high rent, for example?
But mainly it’s about inspiration and a connection to place – while some of our makers are Cornish born and bred, others live here (like Anya and me!) because they love it, and they are hugely inspired by their surroundings, whether it’s coastal or rural, the peace and quiet, the big skies, fresh air, and so on.
Of course, some makers are intimately connected with the actual geography of Cornwall in that they collect beach plastic to make into jewellery, cut gorse from the hedgerows to create natural dyes or use recycled sails to stitch a range of bags.
Was there a running theme in the book?
K: I would say it’s quality, diversity and inspiration, with Cornwall as a foundation for everything.
Did you discover anything unexpected or anything that surprised you when you were creating the book?
K: I was pleasantly surprised by the attention to sustainability and the environment that many of the makers demonstrated. Once we realised this was so important to contemporary craft in Cornwall, we started to really look out for it and have tried to include it as a theme as much as possible. It’s only right in this day and age that we should push it as much as we can.
A: I was shocked that there was a maker (Mosevic) making sunglasses out of denim that was based right in my village!
What would you like the book to achieve? What, if anything, would you like it to change or enhance?
K: We want to produce a beautiful book that brings people joy. And we really want to show people that Cornwall may be far from the geographical centre of the UK, but is very much at the heart of forward-thinking when it comes to craft, that there are makers here who are absolutely incredible.
We want to show off their techniques and processes, whether they are drawing on centuries of tradition or are very modern and high-tech. And we would absolutely love it if the book brings them commissions, sales, exhibitions and further recognition. Judging from the reaction we’ve had so far, that does seem to be the case.
What do you feel like the atmosphere of collaboration is like in Cornwall between artists and makers?
K: It’s amazing! A lot of the makers are great friends with each other and often work on collaborations. There’s a lovely, informal network that’s highly supportive.
A: I feel like there is a lovely relationship between the artists and makers in Cornwall. One of our makers Amy Isles Freeman has done collaborations with another maker, Heather Scott. It makes for a very interesting story for the viewers and supporters of craft and Cornwall, and I’ve been told first-hand that they learn from each other as well.
What are your plans for the future?
K: A cup of tea and a lie-down… and then, assuming this book is successful, we’re thinking of more along the same lines. Watch this space!
A: I want to continue to be a part of the creative landscape of Cornwall, and highlight the interesting people and places that make Cornwall such a unique place to live.
Check out the short video below for a preview of some of the makers that feature in the project.