Craft Crush #12 Deirdre Figueiredo of Craftspace

22 Dec Craft Crush #12 Deirdre Figueiredo of Craftspace

As the Craftivist Collective we love to showcase fellow craft-lovers who inspire us to keep crafting, teach us new craft skills & new ways of thinking and challenge us in how craft can be done, seen & have a positive mark on the world. These people keep me and the Craftivist Collective moving forward and growing and basically I have a big Craft Crush on them for that reason & want to celebrate their crafty brilliance with you so you can be inspired by them too.

Craft Crush #12 is…. Deirdre Figueiredo!

If you don’t know of Crafspace then look them up 🙂 Craftspace work hard to push boundaries and perceptions of craft practice, presentation and learning. They’ve been an organisation that I have heard about from numerous people who have mentioned them to me independantly as an inspiring organisation using craft to help people with personal transformation (one approach we aim to do too). I was honoured that they also asked to use our Mini Protest Banner project as part of their truly inspring project ‘Craft in Mind‘ with young people in Birmingham on the sensitive theme of mental health & well-being . Deirdre Figueiredo is the Director of Craftspace & received an MBE in the 2010 New Year Honours list for services to the Visual Arts. Her answers here are so thoughtful I think you will understand why we proclaim proudly that she is our current Craft Crush 🙂

Deirdre Figueiredo, Director of CraftSpace

Deirdre Figueiredo, Director of CraftSpace


Name: Deirdre Figueiredo


What do you do? I’m Director of Craftspace and as we are a small company it means pretty much a bit of everything, big thinking, trying to influence and champion, trying to be persuasive, finance,  fundraising, getting out and about, wearing lots of hats, mucking in with the team and getting stuff done on the front line and at grass roots.

What are your first memories of crafting? My mum’s an artist and my dad’s an architect and as we lived near the sea in Dar-es-Salaam Tanzania, I was surrounded by found objects from beachcombing. Assembling and ‘curating’ found stuff is still a favourite pastime. My grandmother sewed and I remember sitting with her watching and learning whilst she cut up old clothes to make patchwork quilts which I later inherited and still cherish. She was very much living in a era of make-do-and-mend so nothing was wasted and I was witness to lots of resourceful mending.

What inspires you? Obviously I’m a consumer of the arts, but I am genuinely inspired by cultural encounters which affirm my strong belief in the power and value of the arts.  I popped into the Whitechapel Art Gallery recently en route to visit the London Design Festival and I came across two exhibitions which really inspired me. The first was an amazingly beautiful and beguiling sculpture spazio-di-luce by Giuseppe Penone. The sensibility of the work is very much about materials and making.Secondly, the exhibition Contemporary Art Society: Nothing Beautiful Unless Useful. An exhibition that reminds us of the role that art (in its widest sense) can and should play in social change. It explains the inception of Manchester Art Gallery, in fact the title of the exhibition is a motto used by the architect Charles Barry. Commissioned by philanthropist Thomas Horsfall, the art gallery was free and purposefully built in the midst of deprived working class area with a remit to open on Sundays so people had a chance to visit on their day off. They also organised sociable music events in the evenings. From the enriching and diverse collections on display I can imagine the wonder, delight and inspiration people might have felt on encountering them and the aspirations that might have been kindled. Also fascinating and inspiring was a section in the exhibition about the Leeds Art Club founded by Emily Ford, Eric Gilland Jacob Kramer. ‘During its existence it fused art with philosophy, radical politics, suffragism and spiritualism to encourage reform in everyday life’.  Another section was about the Mass Observation project started by anthropologist Tom Harrisson, poet Charles Madge and filmmaker Humphrey Jennings. Initially based in Bolton, it recorded the everyday lives of inhabitants, particularly the voices of the under-represented. They invited a range of other artists to contribute – the first socially engaged artist’s residency of its kind. This chance encounter with an exhibition reminded me why I am doing the job I do and why it’s so important to keep making the case for access to arts and culture for all.

Who do you have a craft crush on? I admire Deirdre Nelson as a maker who embodies the principles of quiet activism making work that places craft as a central and productive force in society. She uses craft process, sensibilities, values and thinking to empower people in communities to find agency to address issues of social justice, well-being and connectivity. I admire her resourcefulness, the spirited way in which she goes about her creative enquiry and the joyfulness she brings to each project and challenge.

What three things could you not live without? Giving and receiving love, beautiful things and contact with the natural world 

How has craft been a positive influence for you, your community or society at large? In the job I do I’m constantly personally enriched, inspired and uplifted by the ingenuity of people who make, their ability to think of new possibilities, invent and re-imagine the world around us. When I see young boys experiencing exclusion from school increase their attendance by 66% arriving at the classroom first, eager to engage in a Craftspace making project eyes lit up, hands animatedly busy and purposeful then I know what we do is worthwhile and has the power to transform lives. In Craftspace’s Craft in Mind  project a teenager experiencing mental health issues who chose not to speak at the beginning of the project found their voice and vocalised something they wanted to say in the course of doing and making. A participant of Shelanu , a project to set up a craft social enterprise with refugee and migrant women, reflected that “it is an opportunity for women to have a change…look for different opportunities and a new direction. I was asking what is my value? When I start to do the creative work with the jewellery group I feel my heart so strong and bright. It made my mind more clear. It builds our self-confidence.” Unlocking individual and collective potential is the starting point of opening up many and varied possibilities. 

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be? This is a hard one – if I was playing devil’s advocate I’d say ban multinational/global corporations but I know life isn’t that simple. I think it’s a worthy debating topic to expand our notions of ‘profit’ to try and make a better and more equitable world for everyone. 

Have you got any words of encouragement for our readers about the power of crafts? I take heart from other people’s words – Richard Sennett author of The Craftsman reminds us that the physical relationship and contact with material is a necessary part of being human. Glass maker Matt Durran’s tacit knowledge of glass enabled him to work with the Royal Free Hospital to create a non-reactive mould on which tissue-engineered cartilage can grow to form prosthetic noses – life saving stuff with the potential to transfer to other organs of the body. Matthew Crawford author of The Case for Working with Your Hands maintains that the hands-on investigation in a workshop environment, learning how things work through tinkering, fixing and mending develops self-reliance and cultivates ethical virtues like individual responsibility. This absorption in hand and mind process, he says, develops a heedful way of working through which you come to realise the consequences of your actions. These are powerful arguments supporting the role and benefits of craft. Craft and its associated values sits counter to an otherwise homogenised globally branded world. Having the agency to use your hands and mind in co-ordination, to make something unique, invested with feeling and emotion gives a deeper sense of satisfaction than buying off-the-shelf. We can exert choice through craft, it has narrative, it can touch our hearts and souls and it can give us much needed joy.

 See our other Craft Crushes here. Who’s your Craft Crush? Let us know in the comments section :)  

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