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Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Wales Smithsonian Cymru

Ceramics, Basketry, and Woodworking

Handcrafts in Wales: Utility and Artistry

The Welsh often associate handcrafts with home and community, even though many of these traditions either began as or have evolved into full-sized industries. Pottery and porcelain factories using local clays, for instance, once flourished in Wales. Today, Ewenny Pottery, owned and operated by the same family since the early 1600s, continues to produce plates, mugs, and bowls. Caitlin Jenkins, a ninth-generation potter there, also creates her own award-winning ceramic art.

In the past, baskets and other containers made from materials such as willow and rush had many uses in the Welsh home and on the farm. Nowadays, baskets are designed as works of art, but the craft remains a hand skill. Basket maker and historian Helen Campbell explains, "No machine can be created to cope with the many material selections and weave variations required to fashion a basket."

The wooden love spoon started as a hobby by young farmers or sailors wishing to whittle a token for a loved one. Welsh love spoons have evolved into an art form—carved from local woods and sought by collectors around the world. Other examples of fine woodworking include dressers, chairs, and tables made or restored by Welsh craftspeople.

Featured Participants

Helen Campbell, Carmarthen
Campbell learned how to make willow baskets when she moved to rural West Wales in 1982. Today, her creative work embraces a spectrum of basketry-related activities. She is especially interested in exploring traditional craft technologies and the use of sustainable materials. Campbell shares her skills and ideas for contemporary art and design applications primarily through local teaching opportunities.

Lowri Davies, Cardiff
Davies is a ceramic artist at the Fireworks Clay Studios in Cardiff. After graduating from the Cardiff School of Art in 2001, she received a grant from the Arts Council of Wales and won the Young Artist Scholarship at the National Eisteddfod. She recently completed a master's in ceramic design at Staffordshire University.

Caitlin Jenkins, Ewenny
Jenkins is a ninth-generation potter, trained at Ewenny Pottery, South Wales, by her father Alun Jenkins. She studied at the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff and the Royal College of Art in London. Now she works with her father at the pottery, continuing the tradition of making hand-thrown earthenware ceramics for use in the home.

Susie Vaughan, Llansoy
Inspired by the Welsh countryside, Vaughan collects much of the material for her baskets from hedges and woods near her home. The weavings are not dyed, but display the natural color of many different barks and leaves. She has exhibited and demonstrated her work in several countries and has written a book Handmade Baskets: From Nature's Colourful Materials.

  • The collections of St. Fagans: National History Museum include the earliest known Welsh love spoon, carved in 1667.
  • The most coveted prize at the National Eisteddfod of Wales (a Welsh language music and literature competition) is an ornate chair given to the author of the best poem written in strict meter.