Deborah Pocock LVO, CEO of the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust, discusses the importance of keeping traditional crafts alive and supporting excellence in a huge range of disciplines
Since the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust (QEST) was founded in 1990 by the Royal Warrant Holders Association on the occasion of HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother’s 90th Birthday, the charity has come a long way from those first six awards. Today, with HRH The Prince of Wales as its Patron, there are more than 600 craftspeople who have benefited from QEST funding, totalling some £5million. The core mission of the charity – funding the training and education of talented and aspiring craftspeople through traditional college courses, vocational training, apprenticeships, or one on one training with a master craftsperson – has not changed since its inception and QEST is proud to continue to play its part in helping to support Britain’s cultural heritage, sustaining vital skills in traditional and contemporary crafts.
The evolving tradition of craft is key – it is not simply about preserving the past but also ensuring that craft skills are kept alive by relevancy and commercial reality – and that these skills, crucially, are passed on to the next generation.
QEST supports a hugely diverse range of crafts and people from across the UK – around 130 disciplines over the past 30 years – including sculpture, carpentry and woodworking, basket weaving, orcharding, bookbinding, stonemasonry, jewellery- making, textiles, ceramics, leather working, printmaking, silversmithing, and more – representing makers with a wealth of skill and knowledge, respect for traditions but with an abundance of innovative spirit.
Decorative Artist Melissa White has brought an ancient craft up to date by taking the experience of her QEST Scholarship in Elizabethan paintings and the traditions of the Tudor painter stainers, to create scenic artwork for contemporary wallpapers and fabric. Silversmith Rod Kelly – himself a QEST Scholar – has now taught seven scholars in silver chasing at his Shetland workshop; and Annemarie O’Sullivan, basket-weaver, has recently taken on an apprentice, Matilda Grover. Oluwamuyiwa Fadairo, a recent QEST Apprentice, aspires to become a bespoke shoemaker and is working with John Lobb – who have been making the finest shoes and boots for gentlemen since 1866 – to provide Oluwamuyiwa with the best possible training to help him achieve his ambition.
QEST’s alumni are drawn from all corners of the UK, including a kilt-maker in Scotland, a willow artist in Northern Ireland, a Cornish coppersmith, and a textile weaver from Wales; and some are working in crafts rooted in their location, like watchmakers Craig and Rebecca Struthers in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. The Struthers are now making their own in-house watch movement, the first to be created in Birmingham for more than a century, inspired by one of the first machine-made English watch movements from 1880, picking up where late 19th-century British watchmaking left off.
Many have studied abroad to acquire knowledge to enrich their practice back in the UK – travelling to Italy to study the origins of fresco and mosaic work, or to the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington, renowned for the creative use of glass in art and design. Andy Swinscoe’s QEST Scholarship enabled him to undertake training in the intricate art of affinage (the ageing of cheese) in France with Hervé Mons – widely regarded as the best affineur in the world. After returning to the UK, Andy opened his own specialist cheese shop: The Courtyard Dairy, in 2012. The Courtyard Dairy was created with the ethos to sell only the best cheese available from the British Isles; and by doing so, to champion and support the few remaining independent farmhouse cheesemakers. It has gone on to win many national and international awards.
Whilst the primary objective is to provide funding for training, QEST also provides other support for its alumni – platforms for exhibitions, collaborations, and profile-building opportunities (explore the directory of makers).
Photo by Sylvain Deleu
Alice Walton. Mirasi Lock. Photo by Sylvain Deleu