“Craftsmanship names an enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake.”
Richard Sennett, The Craftsman
I’m well into my Serendipity Break from work, doing research for an upcoming book project (more on that soon), and visiting makers all over Europe, most recently at Milan’s Salone del Mobile. In today’s issue you’ll find a mix of interesting craftsmen through interviews, podcasts, and exhibitions. As it often happens, many of the stories connect back to Japan, which as a Japanophile, is one of my soft points. Hope you enjoy it, please hit reply to share your comments and feedback.
Meet Master Pen Maker Dante Del Vecchio
Dante Del Vecchio is considered one of the current pen-making masters, and rightfully so. His path to his current role as chief pen designer at the traditional Florentine stationery company Pineider started back in 1988 when he teamed up with a friend to create Office Dream, which would later be renamed to Visconti. His friend, a really good salesman, told him “Dante, if you make them [the pens] I’ll go out to sell them”.
His early research took him to Osaka, Japan, where he met craftsmen like Mr Kato Kiyoshiwho were hand-turning pens out of celluloid, a highly flammable thermoplastic, using a process that even back then would have been forbidden in Italy (Dante recalls how in some of the workshops you’d find buckets of water next to the maker’s tables to quickly extinguish the flames if the celluloid caught on fire). The breakthrough was when Del Vecchio came across a Japanese maker of urushi (Japanese lacquer) fountain pens which they decided to import to Italy under the Visconti brand. These pens were outrageously expensive and didn’t sell well, until an antiques dealer suggested that such a precious object would never sell unless it was numbered. By following his friend’s advice, Dante essentially invented the concept of limited-edition fountain pens, which is now such a common practice. The success that followed with the numbered urushi pens, which sold well for 5 years in a row, became a turning point for Visconti and for Dante himself, who by looking at the market dynamics understood that a pen had an 8 to 10 years cycle. But for a new brand with no history in a rather traditional market it was very difficult to grow. This prompted him to invest in research and development to create things that others didn’t have, to the point that he currently holds 18 patents to his name.
Podcast: Material Matters with Grant Gibson
Writer Grant Gibson visits craftsmen, designers and artists active in the British scene to discuss their relationship with different materials, and in doing so unravels the story behind these talented makers. What’s refreshing about these 30–45 minute interviews is that the personality, background, and approach to work of each of these masters couldn’t be more different. The first season consists of 6 episodes and deals with timber, porcelain, textiles, glass, leather, and a discussion in material intelligence. I enjoyed them all with my favourites being those with Celia Pym and Edmund de Waal. Season 1 launched earlier this year with 6 episodes, and Season 2 of the podcast started on April 24th.
Exhibition: Living Colours / Kasane — the Language of Japanese Colour Combinations
This beautiful exhibition at Japan House London presents the work of the Yoshioka Dyeing Workshop in Kyoto through an array of colour combinations tied to specific seasonal messages and social occasions. The workshop is run by 5th-generation Yoshioka Sachioand his daughter Yoshioka Sarasa will take over as 6th-generation. The displays are based on the concept of kasane, or layering colours in sync with the changing of the seasons. This intricate use of colour began in the Heian-period Japan (794–1185 AD) and it was well depicted in the classic novel The Tale of Genji.
Living Colours: Kasane — the Language of Japanese Colour Combinations
Japan House London
5 April — 19 May 2019
Yoshioka Dyeing Workshop
Pieces of Japan Trailer
Created by Tina Koyama, Pieces of Japan is one of my favourite websites when it comes to Japanese craftsmanship. Their goal is not only to celebrate the skills of incredibly talented people, but also to support the transmission of the knowledge on to the next generation.
This Summer they will start publishing a series of documentaries, beginning with artisan and woodworker Shuji Nakagawa, whom I’ve had the chance to meet in several occasions. Check out the trailer and spread the word about to support Pieces of Japan’s mission.
London Craft Week: May 8–12, 2019
If you’re in London next week, check out the London Craft Craft Week programme, which is packed with talks, workshops, demonstrations, gallery exhibitions and shops featuring outstanding British and international craftsmen. Many of the events are free but you still need to book, so hurry up!
Sign up here to receive the latest issue, delivered to your inbox each month.