Apprenticeship – mastering your craft

I visited the Dovecot Tapestry Studios this evening which is situated in a £5 million refurbishment of the Victorian Edinburgh Infirmary Street Baths . I had a secondary motive for the visit as it was in that very pool that I learned to swim.

The renovation of building was exceptional – sensitive to it’s history – yet a modern and welcoming space.

We took a tour ’round the studio and met David Cochrane. David explained that he had joined the studio straight from school as an apprentice – contradicting my unspoken expectation that he must have studied art at university. He explained the weaving process and showed us some of the work to which has contributed.  He then showed us one of his own creations which had taken him 9 months to produce. I couldn’t believe that it was a tapestry at first – it looked much more like a high quality photograph or painting of  shimmering water.

I was impressed with David on three counts: firstly his understated manner; secondly, his obvious passion for what he does; and thirdly, his mastery of his craft which has been developed through the best sense of an apprenticeship by learning from a fellow craftsman.  It reminded me of my great grandfather – George Ledingham, of Clatt, Aberdeenshire, who produced these minature model ploughs in 1895 as part of his apprenticeship as a blacksmith.

It’s a great shame that we don’t really value such practical skills in our modern age.

George Ledingham - Clatt 1895 by you.

4 thoughts on “Apprenticeship – mastering your craft

  1. Blair talked about 50% of students getting to university, but he never specified what was to happen to the other half. Surely craft skills and practical skills are just as important as they ever were. There are many practical tasks which can only be done by humans.

    What is more, I am told that in London plumbers earn twice as much as graduate teachers.

  2. Wow! You are so lucky to have this treasure from your family’s history…it’s exquisite.

  3. Interestingly, this is changing. Via Slashdot.

    Using computers to model the physical world has become increasingly common as products as diverse as cars and planes, pharmaceuticals and cellphones are almost entirely conceived, specified, and designed on a computer screen. Typically, only when these creations are nearly ready for mass manufacturing are prototypes made. But the NYTimes is running an interesting essay highlighting a little-noticed movement in the world of professional design and engineering: a renewed appreciation for manual labor, or innovating with the aid of human hands. ‘A lot of people get lost in the world of computer simulation,’ says Bill Burnett, executive director of the product design program at Stanford. ‘You can’t simulate everything.’ Fifty years ago, tinkering with gadgets was routine for people drawn to engineering and invention, and making refinements with your own hands means ‘you have to be extremely self-critical,’ says Richard Sennett, whose book The Craftsman examines the importance of skilled manual labor. Even in highly abstract fields, like the design of next-generation electronic circuits, some people believe that hands-on experiences can enhance creativity. ‘You need your hands to verify experimentally a technology that doesn’t exist,’ says Mario Paniccia, director of Intel’s photonics technology lab.”

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