WRoCAH Small Award Blog Series
This collection of blog posts shares the innovative and productive ways in which WRoCAH students have used the Small Awards scheme. Click on any of the names below to see how Small Awards have helped with these students’ research projects and/or professional training.
Art Gallery Research Trips
My Life in Small Awards
Silk Screens and Wobbly Pots
School of Performance and Cultural Industries, University of Leeds
Silk screens and wobbly pots – using Small Awards for unusual training needs
When you see videos of people throwing pots on wheels, they somehow make it seem effortless, the clay slipping gracefully through their hands as an elegant vessel emerges from a sticky lump of mud. The reality, for a novice potter, is not so simple. Clay gets everywhere except where it’s supposed to be; the result is a set of small and slightly wonky pots, kindly funded through WRoCAH’s Small Award scheme.
My research uses an autoethnographic approach to investigate how people use community craft workshops to learn amateur craft skills; this has meant me getting stuck in to various craft courses, and reflecting on the experience of learning alongside others. For the fieldwork component of my investigation, I spent time in two research spaces, learning ceramics and printmaking skills alongside others. At Hive Bradford, a charity using arts and crafts as a vehicle for community development, I participated in three ten-week ceramics courses, a special raku firing course, and the wheel throwing session I describe above.
At Leeds Print Workshop I explored several kinds of printmaking including lino cutting, monoprinting, silk screen, letterpress, learned how to make zines, and tried my hand at bookbinding. I then progressed to using both spaces as an independent practitioner. Both spaces offer affordable ways in to learning craft skills, but nonetheless incur costs, for which WRoCAH have supported me through Small Awards. There were some triumphs and great revelations along the way (along with a few disasters); by the end of my fieldwork I’d spent over fifty sessions across the spaces, emerging with a large pile of field notes, several hundred photographs, some video to edit, and a selection of more and less successful pieces of artwork. The iterative nature of my research meant that I wasn’t entirely certain, when beginning the main section of fieldwork in November 2018, what I would be doing by the end of the period in August 2019. But the ease with which I could apply for Small Awards has accommodated this processual approach to amateur craft learning.
Another way in which the Small Awards scheme has been very helpful has been via assistance in purchasing a tool for gathering research data. I had been reading about the use of film for documenting craft processes, and, after a WRoCAH-funded video production course, was thinking about how best to do this in a way that could capture the embodied nature of craft learning. It occurred to me that a body-worn camera would provide the access I needed, so I put the case to WRoCAH and they agreed to part-fund a GoPro camera. These are more usually seen on the helmets of mountain bikers rather than being worn while learning how to throw pots on a wheel, but it enabled me to capture what I was doing from my own perspective. The advice I was given for this application has been something I’ve tried to use in all my Small Award applications – that the more I can explain the need for the award, illustrate that it’s been carefully thought through, and that it’s timely in terms of my wider research plan, the more likely the WRoCAH team are to agree to my requests (on a similar basis, they didn’t blanch a few months later when I requested a large pile of embroidery threads as part of my Researcher Employability Project funding).
My research hasn’t involved trips to foreign libraries, required me to learn a different language, or necessitated outsourced support, which might all be part of another doctoral journey, but the Small Award scheme has enabled me to follow the materials (as the anthropologist Tim Ingold might observe) without stumbling. I’ve also received support for more typical doctoral activities, such as presenting at a Creative Methods symposium in July 2018 and at Making Futures conference in September 2019, as well as attending various conferences and events around the UK. But as my research has taken its own twisting path, I’ve been very grateful for the support of the WRoCAH team and access to these very straightforward pots of funding. My advice to anyone hesitating to apply is that if in doubt, talk to the WRoCAH folk – if it isn’t something they’ve funded before, they love a challenge (or so they told me…)
To read more about Clare’s PhD project, ‘Working alone, working together – exploring craft learning in open access community making spaces‘, visit the WRoCAH Research pages.