Mary Crabb at the Oxmarket

The Sussex based artisan artist Mary Crabb, exhibiting at the Guildhall, London as a Yeoman Member of The Worshipful Company of Basketmakers

This week I am in the company of the Sussex based artisan artist, Mary Crabb, as she prepares to run a series of workshops in the art of Basketry at the Oxmarket Gallery, Chichester. These one and two day creative workshops run from Tuesday 26th to Sunday 31st March.

Mary’s own making has developed out of a grounding in traditional basketry techniques and hours of exploration and experimentation. Mary explains “I like to offer workshops to cater for a range of learning – for those interested in the destination, the completing of a made object, and those wishing to make a creative journey where the process is more important than a finished piece of work. Of course sometimes there is an overlap and I always like to be flexible. Workshops can often throw up unexpected ideas!”

Mary’s workshops are in demand across the UK. I ask her what draws people to them. She answers “People come for lots of different reasons, not necessarily just to learn a new skill or develop their practice. Those who join these workshops are engaging in open minded creative thinking which can be quite courageous.” There is a sense in which Mary is building communities through her work bringing people together and providing them with a shared narrative, a common story.

As a practical, practising basket maker Mary was honoured by The Worshipful Company of Basketmakers when she was elected as a Yeoman Member. Yeoman must spend the majority of their time basket making or teaching and are required to demonstrate a high standard of workmanship and skill in the Craft.

My eye is taken by a colourful coiled basket. Mary says “I’m running a day on coiled baskets. We start by looking at the structure of a coiled basket to identify the core and stitching material. Then I teach the techniques for hand stitching around the core to wrap and join threads and begin the basket. I explore a basic stitching technique and suggest how patterns can be added with colours and the placing of each stitch. When you make a small basket it’s important to learn how to place the core material to build a form, and how to finish the basket off. It’s a skills based day to try out a new technique or perhaps as a refresher. All students take a piece home at the end of the day.”

Mary’s enthusiasm is infectious. These exciting workshops will be held at the Oxmarket Gallery, St Andrews Court, off East Street, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 1YH, from Tuesday 26th to Sunday 31st March 2019.

To find out more and to book your place visit then click on Events and Workshops. And you can follow Mary Crabb on social media @crabbbaskets

Remembrance through making

Sussex artist Mary Crabb

‘Significant Figures: remembrance through making’ is an intimate and poignant exhibition which seeks to articulate remembrance through the making of art is currently on show at the Oxmarket Gallery in Chichester.

It tells the story of Cecil, caught in a photograph in his Royal Warwickshire Regiment uniform, following his relationship with Elsie and his role in the Great War through a series of conceptual objects.

Sussex artisan artist, Mary Crabb, is a member of the Basketmakers’ Association, a Yeoman Member of the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers, a mathematician and an educator. Mary brings together these creative threads in her work.

‘I Will Remember Him’ © the artist
‘I Will Remember Him’ © the artist

I ask Mary about the inspiration behind the exceptional narrative of the exhibition. She replies “The story isn’t mine, it belonged to my Grandmother, Elsie, who was born in 1898. She handed it down to me and it has become part of my own journey. It began with a photograph shared with loved ones as an act of remembrance or perhaps as a means not to forget. Elsie met Cecil after her family moved to Birmingham in 1907, her father had won a building contract to work on the Birmingham University. Cecil left school in December 1915 to go to war. In July 1916 Elsie received word from Cecil’s parents that he had been killed in action in France and they gave her the photograph to remember him by.”

I remark that shared stories – memories – of both joys and sorrows unite us as families and communities and Mary agrees.

The exhibition features small intricate work whose simple concepts belie the complexity in the making. There are also examples of more traditional basketwork of the period including a pair of facsimile artillery shell baskets also made by Mary.

Many of the conceptual pieces are mounted on khaki fabric boards. My eye is taken by an installation titled ‘I Will Remember Him’.

Mary explains “‘I Will Remember Him’ is an attempt to quantify the time Elsie maintained her act of remembrance for Cecil.

My Grandmother met my Grandad in Lincoln and they were married in 1934. Their marriage was filled with love, laughter and affection. They were married for more than fifty years. Like many in their generation they shared an understanding of the need to remember those who fought and died, especially those they had loved and lost. Elsie kept the photograph of Cecil from 1916 until her own death in 1992.”

Mary’s mathematical skills become apparent as she continues “Each motif in this piece has a red tag with a year stamped on it and fifty-two twisted strips of blank paper for Bibles each with a handwritten text copying what Elsie wrote on the back of the photograph about Cecil. These strips are held with twining in a circle of seven turns at the centre. Each day between 1916 and 1992 is represented so that each motif mathematically represents a year 7×52+1=365.”

Another work by Mary Crabb

As I stand amongst Mary’s remarkable work it strikes me that Elsie’s act of remembrance for Cecil has a resonance for each of us in our own lives – our joys and our sorrows. But it also powerfully connects and unites us with a particular moment in history and the procession of love and remembrance which flows from it. Mary reflects “Is this Elsie’s story or mine? Through the making of this work it has become both hers and mine, a collaboration.”

‘Significant Figures: remembrance through making’ is at the Oxmarket Gallery, Chichester. PO19 1YH until this coming Sunday, 7th October 2018 and entry is free. For more information visit or

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

The Art of the Studio Potter

Four graduated jugs by Alison Britton
Four graduated jugs by Alison Britton

This week I am returning to ‘The Bishop Otter Art Collection: A Celebration’ exhibition at Chichester University to rediscover their remarkable British Studio Pottery.

A Bernard Leach stoneware jug
A Bernard Leach stoneware jug

The collection includes Modern British paintings as well as studio ceramics, sculpture and tapestries. Visiting professor Gill Clark explains the philosophy behind the collection “Sheila McCririck and the Bishop Otter College Principal Betty Murray founded the collection in the years after the Second World War. They both believed in the civilising influence of art and the educative value of its ability to challenge.” With this philosophy behind the collection it is un-surprising that the Bishop Otter teaching college should have also collected the work of artisan, art potters.

Britain led the world in the field of studio ceramics in the 20th century.

The British ceramics tradition is tied up with the vernacular. From medieval times its production has been widespread and diverse.

The artisan artist is at work in studio ceramics. Form, colour and decoration come together creating objects which are not only beautiful but, very often, useful as well. This is very much in the tradition of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement.

A Lucie Rie stoneware bottle
A Lucie Rie stoneware bottle

Bernard Leach (1887-1979) is considered to be the most influential potter of the 20th century. He was born in Hong Kong and lived in Japan and Singapore. The Japanese tradition of artisan artists was fading when Leach decorated his first pot there in 1909. In 1920 he returned to England with the Japanese potter, Shoji Hamamda. Bernard Leach was persuaded to set up his workshop in St Ives. His lectures and writing would have a profound influence on a generation of British potters. Gill Clark points out that Norah Braden was the college’s first specialist pottery tutor and that she had been a pupil of Bernard Leach. His work is represented in the collection by the beautiful stoneware jug seen here.

Bernard Leach was initially critical of the work of Lucie Rie (1902-1995) but they would become great friends. In contrast to the influences of the rustic folk tradition and Chinese Sung apparent in Bernard Leach’s work Rie’s pots have a metropolitan, modernist quality. She enjoyed turning on the potter’s wheel but despite her remarkable control her pots never seem tight or mechanical. The beauty of her vases and their exceptional form cause your heart to quicken. It is readily apparent to the eye why she transformed modern ceramics.

Other studio ceramic gems in the collection and exhibition include the Sussex based ceramicist, Eric Mellon’s (1925-2014) ‘Horse and Rider’ dish. His years of research and experimentation into ash glazes brought him international recognition both as an artist, ceramicist and scientist. For Eric his art was his calling and vocation.

An Eric James Mellon ‘Horse and Rider’ dish
An Eric James Mellon ‘Horse and Rider’ dish

Alison Britton’s (b.1948) sharp-edged clay jugs seem to depict different facets of a landscape which in turn include human figures, trees, fish and insects. Their decoration has an immediacy reflecting Britton’s spontaneous method of drawing in response to the asymmetric planes of the jugs.

‘The Bishop Otter Art Collection: A Celebration’ runs until 9th October 2016 at the University of Chichester Otter Gallery and Pallant House Gallery. Gill Clarke has published an insightful accompanying book about the collection and its formation which is on sale at both venues. For more information and opening times go to and

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.