May has rushed past in a blur of creative mayhem - orange Open Studios Cornwall ‘O’s fizzing up at every corner, Penryn Arts Festival and not to mention the inaugural London Craft Week and the Glass Biennale further afield.
Among the May madness, I’m spending a beautiful sunny afternoon with a friend Jo and meeting two artists in nearby Helston, both working with bent wood. This isn’t completely random - Jo is exploring The Fabricated Frame - architectural constructs using basketry and biomimicry as part of her PhD and I’m... well I'm coming along for the ride! Our first stop (via another unplanned Open Studios visit - the unstoppable lure of the orange ‘O’s...) is to meet the talented Tom Raffield.
Tom is a designer and maker - creating sustainable furniture and lighting from steam-bent wood. His work is all exquisitely handcrafted - twisting traditional techniques to shape exciting and innovative new forms. In his studio, showstopper lampshades coil and cascade in curls of wood - alongside pared back furniture with subtle contemporary curves. The studio itself is completely captivating. Cabins of perfectly piled logs set in a woodland and Tom’s ‘Grand Designs’ home well underway next door. A homage to wood at every turn - it's hard to tear ourselves away.
We rush to our next stop, Kestle Barton, an ancient farmstead with gallery and artist residencies set in more magical woodland and fields. We just have time to grab a glimpse of the latest exhibition before heading through the meadows to meet artist Paul Chaney.
Paul is in the process of creating a temporary pavilion from bent hazel, local willow and found waste. The wooden bones form a cathedral like structure - it is partially completed but already strangely spectacular with raw, natural beauty. Encampment Supreme is part of Paul’s ongoing research into post apocalyptic survival in the Lizard region. Speaking to him, it becomes apparent that the narrative behind the project runs deep. Every aspect of survival has been considered to the point that square footage for food production can be mapped by specific dietary requirements per person.
Paul Chaney’s conceptual structure is as different from the polished perfection of Tom Raffield’s furniture as it could possibly be. One material, bent into shapes which now speak completely disparate languages. Both are beautiful and inspiring for different reasons - it has been a brilliant day.
Image: No 1. Pendant by Tom Raffield, image courtesy of the designer.
Words: Josie Ballin