Getting the most from a Craft Guild

by Angie Boyer

Getting Together
By Angie Boyer

In this issue - and on our website too - you’ll find our Directory of Craft Guilds & Associations (and Societies as well of course!). These are just a few of the hundreds of organisations that you’ll find if you search the internet, some regional, some craft specific, several dating back decades, even centuries. Some are selected, others have several different membership categories such as ‘Associate’ or ‘Friend’ of the Guild for non-makers who wish to be involved and support the Guild and its aims.
I’d say that many of the artists and makers I meet are fairly solitary people, their chosen way of life and creative careers often leading to them to working on their own. So what makes some of those creative people decide to not only join a craft guild, but frequently to also take an active role in the running of it?
I’ve spoken to some of those people and asked how membership of a guild benefits them and their craft practice, how belonging to a guild enhances their business and personal lives.
Most Guilds are run by a team of volunteers, often their workload is substantial, but the commitment from the people who take up a position as an officer of the Guild, or who volunteer in another capacity, reflects the dedication they have to their craft and furthering the promotion of it.
Serena Phillips, Publicity Officer for The East Sussex Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers, says:  “A Guild is a place for makers to find learning, mentoring, encouragement, others to share adventures with, stimulation for further advancement and exploration, and opportunities to meet like-minded individuals. Our Guild is made up of people of all ages, with a wide range of skills and experience - everyone is welcome, whether beginners or talented professionals. We offer interesting talks, monthly social gatherings including skills development sessions, opportunities to demonstrate work to the public and information about relevant opportunities.”
Meetings, workshops, exhibitions, fairs, open studios, talks, demonstrations, newsletters, social events, annual conferences, networking... most of the Guilds I spoke with offered these as basic benefits, some also offered bursaries, insurance and professional practice advice and development.
Whatever the benefits, everyone spoke enthusiastically about belonging to their guild, frequently commenting on the positive way it has affected their work and their business.
Tlws Johnson, Chair of the Oxfordshire Craft Guild, says, “It is impossible to quantify the benefits of friendships and co-operation between members of the Guild, but I know how much this means to me and to many others in the Guild. Information about developments, fairs, news and just plain gossip are freely exchanged. Stewarding in our many shows brings makers into close contact that they might not have in any other way.”
Tlws is a glass artist and in that capacity is also a member of The Contemporary Glass Society, which says, “Our membership benefits are continually developing and being part of our organisation is an investment in the member’s own development. We can help them grow their practice and we work on their behalf to encourage excellence in glass as a creative medium.” Current CGS membership benefits, along with those that are common to most Guilds, include the artist’s own personal web page on the CGS website, advertising and exhibition opportunities, contact with other local artists through CGS Regional Hubs, a quarterly full colour magazine and access to specialist information and advice. The CGS says that its aims are “to encourage experimentation, debate, refinement of skills and excellence at all levels,” and membership is open  “to anyone working with, or interested in, contemporary glass.”
Award winning glass engraver and designer, Katherine Coleman, one of the founding members and a trustee of the CGS, says: “CGS has introduced many interesting possibilities to me and enabled me to admire and appreciate so much more of what is going on in contemporary glass. Being a member of the organisation is essential to my practice and interests.”
The social side of things is an important aspect that’s mentioned by a lot of the people I chat with. Jewellery designer maker, Gill Mallet tells me about the ACJ (Association for Contemporary Jewellery) Wessex Group. “I’m a founding member of The ACJ, which was founded in 1997 at the UCE in Birmingham Jewellery School. It was several years later that the concept of regional groups was suggested and several of us still, at that stage doing craft shows, discovered we were geographically fairly close. A small group of us got together and formed the Wessex group. There are now about 10 regional ACJ groups, we are probably the most active for them, with 47 members, and pride ourselves in organising several exhibitions, workshops, talks and social events each year, such as our summer barbecue, the New Forest dog walk and other social get togethers. It’s a great opportunity to enjoy the friendship of like-minded, local jewellers!”
Sarah Macrae of the Designer Jewellers Group echoes Gill’s comments, “As making can be quite a solitary activity, belonging to a group gives you the opportunity to make contact with other makers. Newsletters are great for keeping you informed about what’s happening in your discipline and belonging to the DJG specifically gives us opportunities for exhibiting and marketing our work, mutual support and a sharing of expertise within the group for our mutual benefit.”
From regional groups with membership numbers in their dozens, to much larger organisations, the members generally enjoy much the same benefits, although with larger groups comes the opportunity to sometimes offer a little more. The Basketmakers’ Association, which “aims to promote the craft of basketmaking, to research historic basketmaking and to encourage emerging makers,” has over 700 members. In addition to everything you’d expect from them, they also offer various bursaries and an enhanced membership scheme which includes professional insurance.
The Devon Guild of Craftsmen represents over 300 makers from the region and is the leading crafts development agency in the South West. Known for their community and educational work, the Guild has helped to establish two major festivals in Bovey Tracey, the hugely successful and popular Contemporary Crafts Festival and Nourish Festival. “We also tour exhibitions and events to small rural communities in the South West and nationally,” they say, “and we give people of all ages a chance to have a go at a range of arts activities.” Perhaps most importantly, the Guild “supports and develops makers into rewarding careers in the creative economy.”
“I’ve always considered that gaining membership of the Devon Guild of Craftsmen was a major milestone in my career and it has helped me tremendously in giving me support and confidence to follow the path I want to take,” comments Fabrizia Bazzo, a stained glass maker.
The Student Bursary is an important aspect of the Guild of Enamellers and craft&design is proud to have been one of the Bursary’s co-sponsors for many years. The Guild has close links with the British Society of Enamellers, also a co-sponsor of the Bursary. “Sharing a passion brings people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities together with common aims. I’ve made many good friends over the years through both groups, with age being no barrier and work/social background being of no interest, only the enamelling is of interest,” says a member of both the Guild and BSOE. “Being a member of both groups has helped me evolve from hobbyist to full time enameller, through workshops and exhibitions, online gallery and meeting fellow enamellers at all levels, as well as experiencing industrial and commercial enamelling through other corporate memberships and getting to know suppliers and sponsors.” The Guild’s annual conference with workshops, speakers, exhibitions, awards and more, clearly plays an important part in facilitating all of that, it’s a wonderful networking opportunity, with all the regional groups coming together under one roof for several days.
The sharing aspect of Guild membership is also important for the Bead Society of Great Britain, which was formed in 1989. “The Society is a platform to encourage and share knowledge about beads, we have an interest in the many people in the world who use beads in ceremonies and daily life,” says Tina Holmes, the Society’s Publicity Officer. “Our members include private collectors, researchers, dealers, jewellery makers, bead embroiderers, beadwork weavers (on- and off-loom), makers of beads, and many others - so there’s a place for everyone!”
I think you’ll find that there’s a Guild for everyone too, whether it’s an organisation in your local area, or a group representing the craft you work in. Membership has invaluable benefits, as I’ve heard from everyone I’ve spoken with, often leading to life-long friendships that go way beyond simply belonging to the same Guild!

Association of Contemporary Jewellery and

Basketmakers Association

Bead Society of Great Britain

British Society of Enamellers

Contemporary Glass Society

Designer Jewellers Group

Devon Guild of Craftsmen

East Sussex Guild of Weavers Spinners & Dyers

Guild of Enamellers

Oxfordshire Craft Guild

Image: Lively interaction between members of the Oxfordshire Craft Guild.

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