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Monty Don

by Angie Boyer

Published: March 2010

the Last Word in craft&design


We’re delighted to invite Monty Don, presenter of ‘Mastercrafts’, the new BBC2 series, to have the Last Word in craft&design

Mastercrafts has put the spotlight on six traditional creative skills, do you think there’s still a place for crafts such as these in our modern day world?
Yes of course – perhaps more than ever. The world is changing – arguably has changed already – and although none of us know quite how I think that most people share a sense that the debt-laden consumer society of the past 50 years cannot endure. We are, I believe, entering a phase when we all need more personal and social resilience. We need a sense of being able to make and mend, where objects have a value over and above their cost and where personal skills are respected and admired just as the objects that they produce. This    is where these crafts come in.   None of them have died away. Thatching is more in demand  now than it has been since the First World War. Blacksmiths are making beautiful objects just as much as basic hand tools. Even stained glass skills resonate just as much today as they did in the medieval period. Humans have not evolved very much and just because we have taken on some new technological skills it does not mean that older – even ancient – crafts cease to be relevant.

Amongst other subjects, you are known for your interest in gardening, which undoubtedly has a creative aspect to it. But has your involvement with Mastercrafts tempted you to take up a craft again?
I have worked with green wood for many years and was greatly inspired  to continue doing so.         I would also love to have time for some stone carving. But the greatest inspiration from my involvement in the series is the absolute commitment of our craftsmen to mastering basic skills. There can never be a quick fix in this, never short cuts. If you want to master any craft you MUST give it the time and attention it demands. That very simple lesson is at odds with every kind of instant gratification and temporary solution that modern life is bedevilled with.

What is your most memorable moment from the Mastercrafts series?
One day in Humberside we made iron from iron ore, building a furnace, heating it to 800 degrees with coppice charcoal and eventually produced  lumps of iron mixed in with slag. These lumps were taken – glowing and steaming – by the trainees and myself to the forge where we beat them to compress the iron and remove the slag. This went on for an hour or so. The atmosphere was one of a particularly wild experiment, excited but slightly chaotic. Don, our master blacksmith watched slightly bemused. Then he took control of the situation, standing at the anvil and issuing commands to the trainees as to exactly how hot to heat it, where to hold it etc, whilst he beat the lumps in a very disciplined, controlled way. The atmosphere was transformed from a jolly jape to one of almost ritual observation. Instead of trying to bully the iron from the slag, under Don’s watchful eye we coaxed and drew it out. It was a magical moment that I will never forget. And I have a small square of that very pure iron, with Don’s stamp on it, on the desk before me that I will always treasure.

From your own experiences in life and business, what advice would you give to the Mastercrafts trainees who now would like to embark on a creative career as a result of this project?
Stick at it. All success is down to determination and application – with a touch of talent and luck thrown in. And it is a long game. Stick at it and you will always get where you are meant to be in the end.

If you were to choose a piece of hand crafted work for your home or garden, either contemporary or from times gone by, what would it be and why?
I have a wooden bowl made by the great Paul Caton that I value very much, but if I could chose one thing regardless of opportunity or cost it would be a ceramic Korean moon jar that I used to go and see at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge when I was a student. It was made in the Choson dynasty around three hundred years ago and like all Korean pottery from that period has the most exquisite simplicity of line and glaze, not symmetrical or flawless but literally perfect. The most beautiful object I have ever seen and craftsmanship at its most sublime.

 
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