All the fun of an artists' fair


With "Meet Your Maker" their battle cry, 155 craftsmen and women (from 22 different disciplines and as far afield as Sweden, Turkey, Chile and Holland), will descend on Edinburgh for Artisan 98, the annual craft festival, which opens next Wednesday. As with all craft fairs, part of the appeal for both the public and the exhibitors is the chance it presents for maker and buyer to meet and discuss the work. Better still, the fair is an ideal opportunity for visitors to commission one-off pieces by designers who might normally be available only by telephone.

Although only in its second year, Artisan 98 has been dubbed the Chelsea Craft Fair of the north and has established itself as one of the most significant craft fairs in Europe. The event is the brainchild of three veteran festival and exhibition organisers: Tony Gordon, who is responsible for the rising profile of the jewellery exhibition, Dazzle; Michael Dale, who has been involved with events as diverse as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Glasgow Garden Festival; and the furniture-maker Richard Green, whose company 3D/2D specialises in organising craft exhibitions.

"It was always at the back of my mind to do an Edinburgh project," says Tony Gordon. "Dazzle had been so successful up here, with sales in August double that of the exhibition's sales in London at Christmas, that I knew there was a huge interest in contemporary applied arts and jewellery." Things fell into place after a chance meeting with Richard Green at the jewellery show. "I think Richard wanted to try his hand at something larger, with a greater emphasis on the cutting edge, aimed at an international audience. I also spoke to Michael Dale, who's organised lots of events; this three-way marriage resulted in Artisan."

In the short term Artisan's success was assured. After all, an international craft fair held at the time of year when Edinburgh is heaving with arts enthusiasts does make total sense. But ensuring the event would stay the course has taken careful planning. "We knew we had to get the venue right, and that the show had to be vetted like the Chelsea Craft Fair. There was a similar event up here some years ago, called Tent. It was popular, but it was held in a marquee and it got very cramped and hot and sweaty; and in the end it began to feel very samey." With a regular slot booked at the vast International Conference Centre, space and heat should not be a problem. Already the show has expanded on last year and Gordon predicts an even larger turn-out in the future, perhaps 225 exhibitors, which would make this the largest serious contemporary craft event in the world.

Last year Artisan received rave reviews. There were 140 exhibitors, and jewellery was particularly strong. This year the organisers have been careful to balance the disciplines and, although still there in significant numbers, the jewellers will have to compete for attention with an impressive array of textiles, furniture, ceramics, glass, lighting and even books and toys.

So, who exactly will be there? Of the ceramists, Mary Rose Young and Caroline Hudson, both of whom produce vibrant and stylish tableware, will no doubt be familiar to many; Lisa Ellul is one of the fair's newer names, and last year her innovative designs proved extremely popular, as will Jessie Higginson's wares, which this year include simple designs decorated with bold ticking stripes.

Anyone looking for furniture should certainly check out Matthew Burt, whose work includes a garden love-seat complete with fondling-balls. Quirky detailing is also present in Brendan McAtamney's futuristic designs.

If you looking for things with which to adorn yourself rather than your home, you will not be disappointed: the jewellers Mark Nuell, Barbara Christie and Jessica Briggs, among many others, will be showing a vast range of designs covering every aesthetic, from simple and traditional through to full-on glamour; and to go with the jewels there are clothes and accessories by designers such as Terry Macey, Di Gilpin and Sally Nicol Blair. Ultimately, whether or not you are interested in contemporary applied arts and crafts, Artisan is a one-stop shopping opportunity that's too good to miss.

`Artisan 98' (0131 225 2059) is at Cromdale Hall, Edinburgh International Conference Centre, The Exchange, Morrison Street, Edinburgh between 19 and 23 August, from 11am to7pm. Admission pounds 5, including the catalogue.

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