Both the Scholars and Fellows were recently asked - for a presentation to the SPAB Education Committee - to discuss ‘our favourite visit’ so far. Inevitably it was incredibly tricky to pick just one building or person we have visited - such is the amazing variety of places we have been, and the generosity of people we have met along the way!
I think what most of us picked up on as an overall highlight was any ‘hands-on’ visit. Getting stuck-in with a craft or work on site is hugely enjoyable and engaging, and also an excellent learning opportunity. For example, we have tried our hand at blacksmithing, plastering, historical paints, clay tile making, brick cutting and rubbing, stained glass making… Learning through this physical activity is tactile learning, which really helps embed the craft in our minds - a kind of muscle memory.
My fellow Scholar Dan Shemming enjoying hands-on historical paint experience with Hirst Conservation.
Trying my hand at brick rubbing and cutting with Emma Simpson at Hampton Court Palace.
Critically, this has engendered in me a huge respect for craftspeople. I have always admired and appreciated the skill involved in craft processes from afar, but I think the opportunity to try many of these things for myself has made me more acutely respectful of the sheer skill involved, and physically aware of the precision and art of various crafts.
A particularly good example when both Scholars and Fellows together were tactile learning was with Mike O’Reilly in Reading on 23-24 April 2019. This was a wonderful visit in many ways, not only for the practical experience we gained. Mike’s huge generosity with his time, his vast knowledge which he shared, and his gentle teaching were all wrapped up in the overwhelming hospitality and kindness shown by Mike, Kathy and their friends. We all really appreciated that Mike took the considerable time for all 8 of us to touch each and every material and try our hand at every process.
Blacksmithing has also been a fascinating and challenging experience for me. We have been fortunate to try this twice - first with Hall Conservation in London on 29 March, and George James & Sons in Kettering on 3 April 2019. These experiences were notable not only for the ‘hands-on’ kinesthetic learning opportunity, but also as a comparison between the companies. (Also enjoyable for me was the evident progress we made between the two visits - the photo below shows my second attempt to make a water leaf at George James & Sons - an easy compare and contrast to the first attempt at Hall Conservation!)
Hall Conservation are skilled in a variety of conservation work. They employ a range of craftspeople who span many skills in a workshop together. George James & Sons is focused on blacksmithing and metal work. Both have similar size forges, but Hall Conservation’s overall work space is much larger.
Forge at Hall Conservation, with Fellow Joe.
We were given the run of the forge at George James & Sons - they left us to it!
There was a different ‘feel’ to each forge which I felt stemmed from their different scales and types of workshop. George James & Sons has grown literally within a home, which was partially converted for the workshop and adapted over the years within the same family. I felt that this ‘generational’ outfit contrasted to the larger and perhaps more commercial set-up at Hall Conservation; and yet, both maintained a lovely close knit family feel, especially amongst the people working there. Being given the run of the forge at both these places was exceptionally rewarding!
In thinking about tactile learning, it is worth remembering the origins of the SPAB Scholarship - that the Scholars would be professionals with some degree of practical skill, having been exposed to site work. True to the purpose of the Scholarship, I feel I have learnt so much through this kinesthetic learning. I’m grateful for this practical experience particularly in areas or with trades I previously knew nothing about. Through plastering with Mike O’Reilly, and blacksmithing at both forges, I am learning so much I didn’t know.