We heard about a lovely new project developed by our SouthWest and Wales Cluster Hub of members. Bristol-based Janine Partington tells us more about “Tokens of Gratitude”.
Tell us about the group: how many of you are there, when did you form and how often and how do you meet and work together?
The Tokens of Gratitude project came out of discussions within catch-up meetings between members of the Design-Nation South West and Wales cluster hub. As a relatively new group we wanted to find ways to connect on a more creative level as we were unable to meet in real life due to the pandemic. The main participants in this project are Bronwen Gwillim – jeweller using waste plastic, Catriona MacKenzie – glass blower, jeweller and lamp worker, graduate member Daphne Roach – textile designer and weaver, Ali Brown – multi-disciplinary maker, Angie Parker – weaver, Llio James – weaver, Laura Thomas – weaver and textile artist, and me, Janine Partington – enameller and leather carver. We hope more members may join in as the project develops.
Who originated the idea, and what sparked it?
General discussions around creating pieces with components from other makers fed into ideas about giveaways and rewards within our monthly catch ups on Zoom. We talked about the Hand Medal Project involving jewellers around the world and how it felt good to give thanks for the everyday as well as the special that enrich our lives. We decided enough of us wanted to get involved in some sort of project combining all these elements and that is how Tokens of Gratitude came about.
How did you go about developing the project?
We worked as a team to set up a WhatsApp group, as a place to post ideas and images of pieces we had made to share with the group. We also launched an Instagram account @DNtokens. Laura suggested the material exchange, Bronwen set out a timetable and a set of guidelines for the project, Catriona created the branding and we all put forward suggestions and discussed ideas. This project was always meant to be enjoyable and fulfilling and so whilst deadlines are in place, they can be flexible as different individuals have different priorities and pulls on their time especially in these challenging times.
How do you collaborate on designing and making a medal?
Each of the token makers has had sole responsibility for designing and making their own tokens. The collaborative element of the project has been mainly linked to the exchange of materials – generally from the weavers within the group to the other makers. The project has been punctuated by the arrival of ‘offerings’ – it could be materials, ideas, advice, or just encouragement gifted via WhatsApp. We then go away feeling nourished in some way and able to move the work on, that’s been really special, just the right amount of support at the right time from people you respect. Bronwen has used ribbon in a number of tokens handwoven specially for the project on an Inkle loom by Angie, Catriona has incorporated the discarded laser cut centres of needle looms donated by Laura in her wonderful kilt pins, and Janine has used specially felted hand woven fabric from Llio as well as ribbon from Angie and the needle loom discarded components and buttons from Laura.
Participants have also made medals using materials entirely made or sourced by themselves e.g. Ali Brown with her porcelain bowls and ribbon woven from sea twine collected from the beach; Bronwen using materials from beach finds, and found weaves that she’s been inspired to use after finding technical solutions for incorporaying Angie’s donated woven ribbons; and Daphne Roach who used a treasured pebble and a pencil to help create her bespoke token, combining these elements with a specially woven piece.
An interesting aspect of this project has been how several of the non-weavers have incorporated their own elements of weaving into their pieces. This is perhaps influenced by the fact that three of the seven active participants in the project are weavers.
What is important to the group about collaboration? Have any of you worked together before – if yes, on what?
Collaboration is about making connections, and this project has been great for inspiring and supporting makers using new processes and ways of working. None of us had worked together in a collaborative way before the Tokens of Gratitude project, though most of us had met or knew of each other before and it has been a genuinely lovely experience so far.
What are your own experiences of Covid and how has it impacted on you?
Of course we have all had very different experiences of Covid and its impact has varied – for some it has completely changed the way that we work, for others it has restricted our ways to earn a living, for others it has been a time of growth, an opportunity to (perhaps ironically given the circumstances) breathe.
Cat has been severely affected by the pandemic both in her professional and personal life. Being a glassblower where sharing breath is an occupational necessity she hasn’t been able to make work in the shared studio she uses. It has been financially challenging also and has meant that she has had to focus more on her jewellery business as well as her part-time managerial job and furlough.
Llio moved to Cardiff in February 2020 hoping that the city would give her new creative dialogues that would inform her practice. The timing of her move obviously meant that Covid had a big detrimental impact on this. It has been a struggle to settle down and find her rhythm in her new studio, but she is getting there. She is looking forward to a return to some form of normality in the world as she realises that activity and interaction is a much-needed inspiration in her practice.
Laura has been hit by uncertainty and upheaval as exhibitions have been moved around, projects postponed, teaching moved online and there is home schooling to juggle. However, she has embraced the digital world, taking her mentoring practice online and delivering courses and teaching extensively in this way. She has also found being a co-ordinator and part of the SouthWest and Wales Design-Nation cluster hub a very supportive experience.
For Angie, working to balance personal and work life when home schooling is added into the equation has been a challenge and home life must be the priority. However, with the rising interest in interiors as people have been confronted with their four walls every day, her creative experience has been a largely positive and busy one; including very successfully launching a new product, the Bristol Blanket, and answering a thirst for handmade, bespoke designs.
Bronwen has been particularly challenged by the isolation of her location and having moved to the area fairly recently before Covid. An important aspect during this time was the kindness of strangers who befriended her on Instagram – their virtual welcome to Pembrokeshire and local knowledge proved indispensable. That’s why two of her medals went to these new friends.
For Daphne, Covid has affected her work enormously as the manufacturer and printers she used were not available and she had to research new ways of working which has been challenging at times.
Has anyone in the group been involved in other projects or work related to Covid?
Ali has been co-ordinating an exhibition ‘Time Lapse’ which is due to open on 17 May 2021 at Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro. It will showcase works created since the start of the first lockdown by members of the Devon and Cornwall Design-Nation cluster hub .
Janine has created a number of works that are reflective of the mood of the country and the rocky road that this pandemic has taken us on both emotionally and physically. This has included her carved leather panel ‘Pulse of the Nation: Between Hope and Despair’ which was recently shown with Design-Nation at Collect.
As mentioned previously, Angie launched a new product in 2020. The Bristol Blanket was created in response to her lockdown walks around Bristol and the colourful streets she encountered. She wanted the design to reflect the connections between neighbours and within the local community which for many were strengthened during lockdown. Woven from her design by the Bristol Weaving Mill, she gave 10% of each sale to the charity Mind.
Catriona has been part of the Craft coffee mornings with R&A Collaborations at Clay Hill Arts that were set up last year to help craft makers stay connected and feel less isolated. She awarded her tokens to Richard and Arron as a thank you and created lampworked glass Covid molecules as a reminder of the time. She has also been making a Brooch a Month in 2021, inspired by the myxomycetes and mycology she observes and the sanctuary she gets from the woodlands around her, which has been incredibly important over the past year.
What is your hope for the outcomes or legacy of this project?
Our hope is that by sending our tokens out into the world we will show people that they are loved and appreciated. We are coming to the end of the first phase of the project with the makers themselves nominating at least one individual or group to award a token to and these tokens are now heading out to those people. We will be sharing the first tokens and the stories of the nominees on our personal and @DNtokens Instagram accounts.
The next phase will be to make a number of other medals, before a call-out for nominees beginning on 12 April. It will be up to the individual makers to decide how many tokens they wish to offer and how long the project will continue for. Each token will be offered up in turn with a draw taking to choose its recipient. Ultimately, it might be nice to open up the project to the wider Design-Nation family to participate; we’ve already had some interest, but we shall see how the project progresses.
We are carefully recording the medals we send out, the whys and the whos (if they give permission) and hope to mount an exhibition about the tokens at a future date to share the stories.
What are you looking forward to in 2021?
In 2021 it would be nice to get to meet some of the other makers in real life, but having the ability to meet via Zoom does mean that in very busy lives it is easier to keep in contact without geographical constraints. It would be great to exchange skills and work more collaboratively on projects in the future.
Everyone has different hopes for 2021, here are the hopes of some in the group:
Janine has really enjoyed this new way of working using materials donated by other makers and is starting a new project, as yet untitled, where other makers can donate discarded materials that she will then make into at least two pieces. One piece she will keep/exhibit/sell and the other will be sent back to the donating maker as a gift. Janine would not have embarked on this new project without her participation in the Tokens of Gratitude project. Moving forward Janine wants to make more time to work on projects that are creative without the constraint of trying to sell the finished pieces.
Laura has recently moved into a new studio space and is looking forward to settling in and continuing to work towards an upcoming solo show at the Ruthin Craft Centre, a big public art project in Swansea, and lots of other projects she hopes to make happen this year.
Llio is looking forward to finding life again, talking to and meeting new people. She thinks that we are more aware, more caring and more appreciative of what we have and what we took for granted. Weaving as a practice needs time, patience and that awareness of what is going on in the world and so this should enrich her practice moving forward. She is currently designing a new collection of woven products including handwoven mufflers ready for autumn/winter. She hopes that some of the physical craft fairs like Craft Festival in Bath will be able to happen in person this year.
Bronwen is looking forward to venturing further afield once more, but also properly exploring the place where she lives now and meeting up with her new virtual friends in real life.
Daphne is looking forward to getting her business back on track, live events, visiting galleries and museums, seeing family and meeting face to face with colleagues
Angie is looking forward to more industries getting back on their feet and the world approaching life with positivity. She hopes that the resilience we’ve all found can be put to good use and hopes more of us tackle problems with a new approach. On a personal note, she is looking forward to meeting customers face to face once again and getting back to teaching workshops in person and opening up her studio to visitors through open studios once more.
Interview by Liz Cooper & Laura Jacometti.