(Many apologies, BTW, if you’re looking at this on an iPad – the images will be sideways or upside down 🙁 Something to do with images files of photos taken on smart phones. Everything is the right way up on my PC, I promise!)

20150518_151643The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015 starts today and I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview yesterday courtesy of The New Craftsmen who are this year presenting their ‘Artisan Retreats’ at the show. These beautiful wooden studios in a peaceful, leafy glade couldn’t have been a more fitting backdrop, and the perfect setting for the beautifully crafted objects on show.

I’ve been to the Chelsea Flower Show a couple of times before; I love flowers although my own attempts at gardening are often spectacularly dismal.  But what I find so inspirational about Chelsea, apart from the obvious spectacle of colour and beauty, is that it’s where you find excellence – the best of the best.

Looking at the jaw-dropping displays of flower and plants and flawless show gardens it’s hard to believe that they actually are real.  Their perfection is astonishing.  And that’s what I love about it so much – the growers, designers and makers are driven, above all else, by their love for what they do and excellence is the result.

Which makes it all the more appropriate that The New Craftsmen were there, as the makers they represent are all, every one of them, quite exceptional.  The work on display from just a handful of the craftspeople they represent was a joy to look at, touch and feel – let’s take a tour:

20150518_150353First stop was the work of London-based furniture designer-maker Gareth Neal and Orkney Chair-maker Kevin Gauld (I wrote about their work previously here).  Their new collaboration is the Warming Cabinet, above and below, part of the Brodgar series, and inspired by an Edwardian Warming Cupboard.  The interior of the cabinet is as beautiful as the exterior, crafted from solid oak, and the large expanses of straw-work that form the gently curving doors add exquisitely detailed warmth and texture.

Warming Cabinet Detail

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20150518_151425Glass artist Michael Ruh filled his space with his colourful glass pieces, and  – of course – colourful, beautiful blooms.
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20150518_151130A fantastic way to display Michael’s glass tumblers, turning them into a rainbow artwork. Maybe the same could work in the kitchen?  It’s such a shame to hide glasses these lovely in the cupboard.

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Katherine May is a textile artist and quiltmaker who has been experimenting with natural dyes from plants and flowers, so The Artisan Retreats at The Chelsea Flower Show was her perfect match.  Her work has a particular focus on material life-cycles and acts of making. 20150518_15050120150518_151643
Here are some lengths of cloth hanging up to dry that Katherine had dyed using hyacinth and cochineal.

Nick Webb 2Nick Webb vase

These wooden pieces by Nick Webb, who is a maker in wood and clay, were just stunning, and seemed to have sprouted completely naturally out of their woodland surroundings.

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The spoons above were amongst my favourite pieces; the beautifully-grained handles are made from boxwood and felt as heavy and smooth as bone.

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Last, but not least, I popped in to see the ceramics of Sylvia K, who we also previously wrote about here.  Her functional terracotta tableware and vessels are inspired by “folk traditions and peasant artefacts”.

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Sylvia is working on some new colours, and you can see that the leather handles for her platters allow you to hang them on the wall as decorative objects.

I hope The New Craftsmen have a fabulous time this week at the Chelsea Flower Show in their temporary, woodland home which seemed so appropriate to the traditional craft practices on show.

You don’t have to go to the Chelsea Flower Show, though, to see the work for yourself.  You’ll find all of their makers on The New Craftsmen website, and they also have a permanent gallery and shop in the heart of London’s West End, just a stone’s throw from Oxford Street, opposite Selfridges. So do make sure to track them down there if you’re ever in the area.

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