When someone mentions “handcrafted” my mind immediately springs to the imagined character of those involved. “Handmade” or “handcrafted” has a real sense of individual contribution. In my imagination I conjure up dedicated artisans in remote cottages hunched over peat fires in the Hebrides with outside toilets, horizontal driving rain, subsisting on dried fish and whiskey, with questionable standards of personnel hygiene and an unhealthy attraction to stocky damp hairy cattle with horns.
The Hinterland has an enviable reputation for handmade and handcrafted items which correctly reflects its artistic heritage. Alas there are to my knowledge no peat fires here. The food is just brilliant, we wash frequently and drink our fine wine and handcrafted beer even more frequently.
I have always hoped that the crafts person of yore, the “hand maker” of fiction, might just be still lurking in the bowels of Booloumba or the wilderness of Witta. Take for example the Woodcarver. I picture a shingle clad cottage with ageing timber slabs against the wall. Moss covered apple trees, a stone hearth and an old man with a profusion of white hair, wispy beard, leather apron and hands like ancient tree roots endlessly whittling with pipe in mouth. He wears a yellow waist coat to match the colour of his teeth. On his shoulders it is sawdust not dandruff and there is a strong smell of linseed oil and French polish. He sits knee deep in wood shavings carving cuckoo clock cases.
Then there’s the visual Artists. To be an acceptable visual Artist in the “Handcrafted” idiom you need a garret and we don’t seem to have plentiful garrets in the Hinterland. Also you need a paint- besmirched smock and to be in the final stages of consumption. It is essential that you imbibe significant quantities of Absinthe, a 19th century drink of the ‘artistic set’ with an alcohol content that makes you lose arguments with inanimate objects. I have a theory that the French Impressionist movement was fuelled by Absinth. That vague, hazy Renoir look was in fact what you actually see if you consume too much of “the Green Fairy”. It was never “impressionism” rather the reality of overindulgence. You could say there was essentially a belief amongst artists of that era that “Absinthe makes the art grow stronger!”
My image of Basket Weavers is that they should live in a clay and wattle cottage by a pond with an outbreak of reeds and goats and with underwear crafted from potato sacks drying on the line. They have carrot red hair and a beard to match that resembles a poorly tended shrubbery highlighting early elements of lichen and the remains of last night’s vegan pie. They need piercing blue eyes, look marginally demented and can trace their ancestry back to a lamentable and eminently forgettable bog in southern Ireland.
Some of you may find basket weaving as interesting as a village cricket match in Pakistan with all the glamour of a blunt farm instrument. You are wrong. Place an imaginary basket weaver of Celtic extraction on the dance floor, fuelled with some doubtful alcohol extracted from decaying potatoes. With the screech of fiddle and a manic Gaelic songstress who sings about something personal that she eternally lost on the banks of the Liffey (a sound similar to a 747 with engine trouble) he will dance just as he weaves with extraordinary energy and fury. The danger of course is that at the end of this musical interlude he will envelope you in an embrace of everlasting brotherhood, the fumes of the fermented spud and the rancour of the underarm. All of which is about as appealing as bowel surgery in the rainforest with a stick.
On the other hand my image of Potters and Ceramicists is one of peace and tranquillity with an inclination to absentmindedly hum. Light of weight, lank of hair and fair of face they have gaunt and slender hands with long stringy arms that trail at their knees reflecting the badge of a life at the wheel. Their hue is of clay and their legs slightly bowed. They are often named Harry and dwell in old cow sheds at one with the elements heated by kilns with mysterious glazes.
Of course none of this is actually true. Our wood workers seldom wear yellow waistcoats and have fine teeth. Our artists, they say, imbibe in moderation. Our basket weavers probably have a Ph.D. and lecture at the University of the Sunshine Coast and our potters may well be rotund, rosy and jolly and play the bagpipes on wet Thursdays. What is true is the fact that collectively they produce truly world class art. Christmas beckons and the challenge again arises to seek out that gift of unique and special quality. Come up to the Hinterland. The art will speak for itself. The artisans I will leave to your imagination!
Article written by Angus Richards and published for Dec/Jan Edition of Come on Up