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A craft fair in Canary Wharf sounds like an oxymoron—after all what do carefully handmade objects have to do with London’s shining centre of commerce? Quite a lot as it happens. East London’s making heritage dates back centuries.
Many industries survive from the time when London had just begun to spill over its city walls. For example the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which cast everything from Big Ben to the Olympic Bell, has been in continuous service since 1570. And from 1802 to 1939, Canary Wharf was one of the busiest docks in the world, trading in and out of all corners of the globe—including the Canary Islands, hence the name.
When the shipping industry began to decline in the 1960s, the area fell on hard times until Michael von Clemm, former chairman of Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB), decided to move his office to Canary Wharf. His idea sparked the development of the new business district. The growth of the banking industry in London coupled with the extension of the Jubilee line and demand for office space fuelled rapid development in the area, which at its height, saw the HSBC building sell for £1.1 billion. Further regeneration in recent years means that the area is now a thriving business and residential district with a year-round arts programme that includes Made London: Canary Wharf, a contemporary design and craft fair that highlight the area’s making heritage.
Spanning two weeks, 17–20 and 22–25 March, each event showcased 60 different makers from disciplines ranging from ceramics, textiles, glass, and wood to furniture, fashion, jewellery, and homewares. These are just five of our favourite finds:
The walls of Tim Plunkett‘s delicate wooden bowls are just few millimetres thick. Each one is made from a solid piece of locally-sourced timber, which is then cut and shaped with a chainsaw and a lathe, before being dried over a period of months and then finally finished on the lathe. Tim holds a degree in environmental science and was the youngest person to be invited onto the Worshipful Company of Turners’ Register of Professional Turners. “I am motivated by the desire to produce simple, beautiful, and practical pieces, which show the unique character of each piece of wood,” he says.
Jo Davies Ceramics
Royal College of Art graduate Jo Davies specialises in wheel-thrown and hand-built porcelain. “My work is about capturing the softness of clay,” she says. “So every piece looks like it could still be wet.” Her Speak Vases, which are glazed with black manganese, were inspired by audio speakers and the human figure, and appear as if they might start talking at any moment.
Edward Johnson Furniture
Edward Johnson‘s Undressed Valet has been designed to “solve a simple problem,” according to its creator: that of clothes tossed over the backs of chairs. The laminated oak form looks like a wall-hung sculpture, until its function is revealed. Its curves are designed to hold everything from jackets and hats to trousers, skirts, and bags. Meanwhile, his integrated oak, sycamore, or walnut bowl is the perfect place for keys, small change, and jewellery.
Sam Pickard’s Shop
Sam Pickard collects colour stories from nature as the starting point for her designs. “I use a dip pen and ink to draw images inspired by the countryside in Devon, and then I add the colours using acrylic, and that’s what defines my palettes,” she says. She captures her hues in reactive dye recipes, which allow for the underlying grey of the natural linen.
Sam set up her textile design business in 1996 with a Crafts Council Development Award, and her work has been shortlisted for Elle Decoration’s prestigious British Design Awards.
Tom Guest Furniture
Nottingham Trent graduate Tom Guest studied furniture and product design before embarking on a career as an industrial designer in Hong Kong. He has only been making furniture under his own name for a year. “I’m making furniture that I love and that I want to make,” he says. His contemporary take on the traditional Windsor chair is made from English walnut.
It’s heartening to see British-made craft being showcased in East London and Canary Wharf, breathing life into its previously dormant heritage.
Photos by author