Consumers click a button for their groceries, clothes and anything else that they could possibly want. The Internet has altered the speed of everyday activities and transformed the skills needed for modern day life.
Rewind one hundred or so years ago and the way in which we consumed products was a completely different story. People would visit the butchers for meat and the tailors for clothes, while the milk was dropped straight to the door. ‘Make do and Mend’ was all the rage. If you had a hole in your dress you would patch it up, not get rid of it. If you chipped your mug you wouldn’t discard it in the bin, you would rivet it back together.
Local fine art student, Natalie Philpott, has created the ‘Forgotten Skills’ project to try to recreate and celebrate the now unused trades and skills that were once part of everyday life. The vision of this project was formed when Natalie discovered an old photograph that had been published in her local newspaper of her great-great-great grandfather, who was a glass and china riveter. “It struck me that you never hear of people doing anything like that any more.”
Inspired by her ancestor’s past, Natalie took it upon herself to locate people in the Falmouth area who possessed these forgotten skills and to bring them together for a skill-sharing event. “I decided to find a network of people who had these forgotten skills and bring them together.”
“My projects are a stepping stone for social interaction”
Falmouth born Natalie, is currently studying in her final year at Falmouth University, towards her degree in Fine Art. Her Forgotten Skills project has involved a lot of organising and promoting as well as the creative aspect.
“As well as flyers, newspaper advertising and posters I made beer matts to go in all of the local pubs.” The local businesses’ have been really enthusiastic about the project and many of the people who have showcased their skills were reached through word of mouth.
She also recreated her grandfather’s cart by hand to promote her event in Falmouth’s main street. “When I took the cart around town I engaged in conversation with local people about the project. It was so good to see people so enthusiastic about what I am doing and by hand making the cart it has also taught me new skills.”
“I create participatory and relational art where the relations between people are my aesthetic”
Natalie’s sometimes even gruelling attempts at promoting her event have paid off. Spending the day stood in her local town dressed as a boy is considered to be her lowest point, her advertising strategy has worked. A range of people of all ages, gathered in the local church for the event, all highly enthusiastic about showing off their skills.
Natalie explains her fears of putting on an event like this, “I was worried that people wouldn’t show up.” With the aroma of fresh cakes and breads filling the air in the hall and the curious excitement building up outside the Reformed Church in Falmouth, she need not have been concerned, as quickly the hall began to fill up with local people all eager to be involved.
Throughout the morning the hall was filled with conversation, tea drinking and lots of cake eating, of course. The turnout of spectators promoted reminiscing as well as everybody getting involved in learning a skill or two. “I was amazed at the amount of people who were so keen to come in and get involved. There was a point in the day when the hall was so busy, it was difficult to move around. I was also extremely touched at the effort the skilled participants put in to the event,” although she describes that, “It’s not merely about the number of people who experience this event in real time but more importantly what they take away from this encounter and potentially share amongst society.”
A stall that gained a large number of spectators was Mr Harding’s spiling demonstration. Spiling is an old fashioned form of measuring, traditionally used in the boat building industry. Mr Harding, who heard about the event by a poster in the local fruit and vegetable shop, explains, “I am very aware that a lot of these skills and techniques do get lost in time and people just forget how to do them.”
Local man, David Cummins’ saw sharpening stall also gathered a great deal of interest. David’s skill truly is a forgotten one. “This is a crucial memory, it would be great with the use of modern technologies if it could be saved for periods of time so that we can look back.” The skill sharing event was not only a day for people to get involved in learning something new, but also a way of preserving these treasured skills through it’s documentation.
David also depicts how these days, people buy cheap saws from the DIY shops, use them for a few months, and when the blades are blunt they will buy a new saw. Traditionally, instead of replacing the entire saw when the blades were blunt, you would visit a saw sharpener. David learnt his skill at the age of 16 and is enthusiastic that it is one not to be forgotten.
Natalie praised David on the lengths that he went to make his skill sharing demonstration as unique as possible. “He actually made a bench from scratch for demonstration purposes and Rebecca Vinnicombe spent the night before making countless loaves of home-made bread.” Natalie has been taken back by the amount of effort and enthusiasm of everybody involved.
As well as giving educational demonstrations, many participants had a go at learning a few new skills themselves. Lisa’s embellishment and Susan Trevaskis’ crochet stalls generated tight competition from the locals who had picked up a new skill by the end of the day, as well as indulging in tasty treats from the homemade bread and cake stalls.
Bridget, who still practices traditional sock darning was overwhelmed by the amount of support the event received. “I think that it’s wonderful to see the mixture of both young and old all coming together for an event like this.” Bridget learnt her skill as a young girl during the war. “We didn’t have the luxury of just being able to buy a new pair of socks, instead we would patch them up. They were different times.”
Natalie observes, “If I want my work to reflect the ever changing nature of human relationality, then it too must continue to develop and evolve,” and is eager for anybody who has a skill that they feel is at risk of becoming extinct to contact her. Natalie states,“I would like to say a big thank you to all the skilled participants who helped make the event such a success. I would also like to thank everybody who came along to get involved in the skill sharing activities, as well as the local shops, pubs and newspaper for helping me to promote theproject.”
So while consumers continue to browse the Internet for the latest goods and gadgets, It has become clear that there are still people who like to do things the traditional way and just like Natalie, want to preserve the skills that have been passed down as gifts to us from our ancestors.