skip to Main Content

Contemporary Artists & Makers Using Artisan Crafts in Cornwall: A Celebration of Heritage and Creativity

Cornwall’s history of artisan crafts is famous the world over, and this landscape has been home to many artists and makers using their hands, and humble equipment to create exquisite pieces. Cornwall has a rich legacy in art and craft, and is recognised for the renowned artists and makers who nurtured and refined their skills in the county.

pottery wheel in black and white
artisan craft

The St Ives group of artists, working in the early 20th century from the small fishing town in west Cornwall, are legendary here in the UK, and around the world. Inspired by the famous golden light, and a lifestyle governed by the tides and ever changing weather, the St Ives set became a revolutionary group of outstanding individuals, changing the face of art in the 1900s. 

Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, Patrick Heron, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, are just a few of the creatives who were part of the community here, putting Cornwall on the map as a centre of groundbreaking art.

barbara hepworth working on sculpture
drawing

We can’t talk about contemporary artists living and working in Cornwall today without referencing the creatives who came before them. Collectively, artists in Cornwall have been inspired by the same dramatic landscapes, the same cobbled streets and fishermen’s cottages, the same sunsets, and the same sense of freedom that this landscape encourages. 

Today, Cornwall is home to many artists who pay homage to the traditional techniques and crafts that came before them, whilst forging a new path and revolutionising their discipline.

What is contemporary art and craft? 

Contemporary art and artisan craft describes art that is being made in the present day, by practitioners who are alive and well – and creating! It can be confused with Modern Art, as both imply a current-day timeline, but Modern Art actually describes the art movement that began in the late 19th century, through to the late 20th century. Modern Art was the departure from classical and traditional painting styles, towards more experimental and abstract works, and its pioneers were names such as Van Gogh, Picasso, Dali, Warhol, Pollock, and Duchamp. 

Contemporary art and artisan crafts includes disciplines such as painting, sculpture, woodworking, jewellery making, photography, ceramics and more. While contemporary creatives put their own spin and style on their work, they are often using time-honoured techniques and traditions. While advancing technology such as 3D printing and digital machinery allows for creative work that has never been seen before, more and more artists and craftspeople are choosing to use traditional equipment to create handmade wares.

pressed flower print
Amy Cooper Ceramics - Selection of Porcelain Lamps (lit)

The importance of keeping the Cornish artisan Crafts heritage alive 

Contemporary artists in Cornwall using traditional artisan crafts, such as woodworking, ceramics, painting and more, are incredibly important in keeping the connection alive to those who came before us. A respect for heritage artisan crafts and a commitment to maintaining their presence ensures we also respect the materials and processes that go into making our treasured pieces. In a world of fast fashion, fast food, and newness delivered the next day to your door at the click of a button, there’s a danger that we are losing awareness of how items are made. This instant, trend-led culture is incredibly damaging, as we feel little connection to items, readily discarding them in favour of something shinier. 

Our attitude towards objects changes drastically when we know whose hands made them and how many days were spent weaving on looms, carving stone, melting silver etc. These are well-made items with longevity, that will be treasured and cherished, that we’ll mend if need be and excitedly show off to others. Keeping Cornish heritage crafts alive isn’t just a romantic aspiration, it’s key to slowing down the production and consumption cycle, encouraging a more mindful and sustainable approach, a necessity in today’s climate. 

What is the difference between artisans and craftsmen?

An artisan can be defined as a worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making something by hand. Artisans often use traditional, non-mechanised techniques to make their goods. A craftsman can similarly be defined as a skilled worker, a specialist in their field. Items are often made on a custom or bespoke basis, and may involve hand use of powered machinery. 

For example, the creation of luxury handmade knitwear, made using a hand powered knitting machine and locally sourced, natural biodegradable yarns, would be the work of an artisan knitter. As would wood fired ceramics, fired in a kiln that wouldn’t be out of place 100 years ago. 

Craftsmanship could reference the skill of talented furniture makers, using modern technology to create custom, impeccably built objects. 

Artisan and Craft Techniques and Processes 

Painting

Whether using oils, acrylics, mixed media or other mark making tools, artists study the work and techniques of admired artists to understand the possibilities in their craft. Maggie Cochran’s seascapes explore the dynamic landscape which has got under the skin of many other Cornish artists, but her work discusses her own emotive response to it. Sharon Bruster’s mixed media paintings examine the space between low and high tide, with her abstracted take on it creating imaginative, expressive works that speak to the viewer. 

seascape painting
Framed painting of water in rockpools by Sharon Bruster

Ceramics

Cornwall is home to an abundance of clay, and the white tipped ‘clay mountains’ of St Austell are a reminder that in the early 1800s Cornwall’s china clay deposits were the largest in the world. The legendary Leach Pottery, founded in St Ives by Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada in 1920 became a hub of expert teaching and creative freedom, influencing ceramics worldwide. 

Today’s Cornish ceramicists are exploring different branches of the discipline, making the process work for them, and creating unique ceramics. Whether wheel thrown from local stoneware clay like Michelle Foote, made into porcelain lighting like Amy Cooper, or intricately hand painted like Lucie Sivicka, artisans are honouring the techniques of their craft, while forging their own path. 

Selection of ceramic work by Michelle Foote
Amy Cooper Ceramics - Tall Porcelain Lamp - Kimberlight (lit)

Jewellery

Jewellers in Cornwall are using artisan techniques refined and honed by those who came before them. However, many are approaching their craft with a new mindset when it comes to their materials. Sarah Drew produces beautiful jewellery inspired by and made from found objects. Laura Talbot of Porth Jewellery collects sea glass from which she creates stunning, colourful collections. 

recycled glass bead bangle
Sea glass jewellery collection on display, with dark blue, turquoise and light blue sea glass pieces

Textiles

Woven and embroidered textiles, with all of the love and craft poured into them, are the furnishings that make a house a home. Whether woven on a loom, or embroidered, artisans have been using yarn and thread to embellish and personalise their items for centuries. We stock the work of Melody Ryder, who freehand machine embroiders designs onto her homewares. 

Melody Ryder Designs - Hedgerow felt and machine embroidered lampshade (lit)
Melody Ryder Designs - Pink Flamingos felt and machine embroidered lampshade (lit)

Printmaking

Different printmaking techniques such as screenprinting, lino-cutting, monoprinting and more, are all lengthy, hand made processes which have changed little over time. The process is just as important as the final image, as so much attention goes into the physical creation of the image. Jill Dunn of Riverbird Studios creates nature-inspired lino cuts from her studio in Penryn. Mark Lord of Lino Lord Press also creates lino prints, inspired by the Cornish lifestyle. His limited editions are extremely popular!

Detailed sycamore seed illustration print
Lino Lord Press Artist Portrait

Our Contemporary Artists & Makers 

At Inspire Makers each and every artist has been considered and evaluated for their skill and commitment to artisan crafts in Cornwall. Below are just a few of our favourites…

Wild Origin

Victoria, the founder of Wild Origin – a leather accessory brand – ensures her leather goods are made to last, and get better with age. With a sustainable approach, her production is ethical and she chooses to use leathers with minimal harsh chemicals and processes. Her handcrafted leather accessories are brilliant for gifting, or treating yourself to, and are made to last a lifetime. 

Leather wallets handcrafted by Wild Origin
Group of leather keyrings handcrafted by Wild Origin

The Hide Studio

Rich and Jane are the duo behind The Hide Studio, a workshop in Cornwall making wooden homewares. They use local wood from trees which have naturally fallen or are from their own woodland, and their designs are led by the unique features of the wood they work with. They usually turn the wood ‘green’, and then it dries naturally, this allows the wood to continue forming a shape without restrictions. Finished with natural and food-safe oils to seal each item, their homewares are functional as well as beautiful and interesting. 

Man holding hand carved wooden bowls in a tower

Sarah Cooling  

Ceramicist Sarah Cooling grew up in St Ives, and was influenced by the town’s artistic heritage. This combined with her later travels to Limoges, famous for its hard paste porcelain and mediaeval and renaissance enamel, allows her to create a unique style using a mix of techniques. 

Sarah uses the sgraffito technique which involves layering contrasting slips and glazes before firing, and scratching into them to reveal what lies behind. 

Mala Jewellery Design 

Silversmith and jewellery designer Maria Andrews makes handcrafted pieces borne from a deep rooted connection with nature and the environment. Maria uses traditional jewellery techniques, such as cuttlefish and sand casting, along with electroforming and wax carving. Her skilled touch produces impeccable jewellery designed to be a go-to in your jewellery box. 

Three Silver Cocoon Rings

Bridie Maddocks 

Ceramicist Bridie Maddock’s wood-fires her pots in a kiln to a temperature of 1280 degrees. The kiln is fired solely from wood, and Bridie sprays bicarbonate of soda to create interesting finishes, which results in each piece having a unique appearance The pots are fired for around 32 hours and the kiln then takes around 3 to 4 days to cool. Her pots are an incredible homage to a physically intensive and lengthy process, and are items of joy to add to your daily ritual.

Bridie Maddocks wood firing her pottery

Cornwall’s contemporary artisans and craftspeople are playing their part in the evolving narrative of creativity in this county. They do so while respecting the techniques and challenges those before them faced. We are so pleased to stock the work of many of these contemporary makers in the shop, you can browse their work.

Want To Hear More? We Would Love To Hear From You.

Sign up to the Inspire Makers newsletter for monthly updates on makers, workshops and exhibitions.

Back To Top