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RCA Alumna Phoebe Cummings Awarded Inaugural Woman’s Hour Craft Prize

RCA Alumna Phoebe Cummings has won the inaugural Woman’s Hour Craft Prize, announced at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in a live broadcast on BBC Radio 4. The prize was launched in October 2016 by the Crafts Council, BBC Radio 4 and the V&A in order to celebrate the most innovative and exciting craft makers in the UK.

Cummings was awarded the prize by a judging panel made up of Rosy Greenlees, Executive Director of the Crafts Council; Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A; Martha Kearney, BBC journalist and broadcaster; Susie Lau, fashion writer and style influencer; and Jacky Klein, art historian. The panel recognised the originality of her work, which utilises raw clay in site-specific pieces that change subtly day-to-day. Greenlees described Cummings’ work as ‘staggeringly beautiful’ and praised her ‘highly skilled understanding of the material’.

There were over 1,500 applications to the prize, which were narrowed down to just 12 finalists. An impressive nine of this shortlist are graduates of the RCA. Their work can be seen in an exhibition at the V&A until Monday 5 February 2018, before touring the UK.

Martina Margetts, RCA Senior Tutor, crafts specialist and one of the judges in the first two rounds commented: ‘It was interesting that two thirds of the finalists and the overall winner of the £10,000 Woman’s Hour Craft Prize 2017 are graduates of the Royal College of Art. It is not surprising: these are top professionals who spent their fifth and sixth years of study at the oldest and most influential postgraduate art and design school in the world, which emphasises in-depth and critically aware creativity. Students use cutting-edge skills and technologies within an interdisciplinary framework among an international student body from 69 countries. Collectively, the finalists' culture of craft is a beacon in the landscape of current British creative industries, worth £84 billion to the UK economy.’

She continued: ‘Craft processes and practices are at the root of every facet of how we shape our world. They are integral to the RCA’s lead in arts and design innovation to benefit technological, social, economic and cultural development. This includes a strong alliance with STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. The Woman’s Hour Craft Prize, with an audience of seven million listeners on BBC Radio 4, shines a light on excellence while the RCA is the pinnacle of a maker’s educational experience. It is up to government strategy now to ensure the next generation of makers, currently in primary, secondary, apprenticeship and undergraduate education, are given the curriculum, resources and teaching to flourish as well.’ 

Phoebe Cummings graduated from Ceramics & Glass in 2005, she was artist in residence at the V&A in 2010, winner of the British Ceramics Biennial Award in 2011 and was awarded the ceramics fellowship at Camden Arts Centre from 2012–2013. Cummings creates transient site specific pieces for public museums and galleries, which challenge ideas of value and permanence within craft practice. For the exhibition at the V&A she has created a fountain that will gradually disintegrate over the course of the exhibition.

Other Ceramics & Glass alumni shortlisted include Alison Britton, who is Senior Tutor on the Ceramics & Glass programme. For the last 40 years Britton has been creating works that focus on the pot as a form through which she explores function, history, containment and ornamentation. Neil Brownsword, who graduated in 1995, creates installations using ceramics, film and performance. Exploring absence, fragmentation and the discarded, his work addresses the inevitable effects of global capitalism which continue to disrupt indigenous skills and a heritage economy, such as those rooted in his home town of Stoke-on-Trent. Glass artist Emma Woffenden has been shortlisted for her uncanny glass sculptures that are based around the human figure and explore the power of myth and archetypes.

Lin Cheung, who is an alumna of the Jewellery & Metal programme, questions established uses and meanings of jewellery. The exhibition features 15 different pin badges from her Delayed Reactions series, which is inspired by people wearing badges in reaction to political, social and personal events. Fellow Jewellery & Metal alumna Caren Hartley is exhibiting a bike that she made for the Design Museum’s Cycle Revolution show in 2015. Hartley applies a variety of metalwork techniques such as fabricating, bronze brazing, silver soldering, piercing and wax carving, some specific to bicycle manufacture and some which she has developed during her multidisciplinary metalwork career.

Finalist Celia Pym graduated from Textiles in 2008 and is a regular Visiting Lecturer on the Textiles programme. Pym’s work explores ideas of care, repair and vulnerability through the process of darning other people’s clothing. Pym was awarded the UK Craft Residency at Cove Park, Scotland, in 2016 and shortlisted for the inaugural Loewe Craft Prize this year. 

Design Products graduate Peter Marigold was shortlisted for his pieces that use cedar tongue-and-groove cladding and steel nails that have been stripped of their zinc coating. The pieces are left outside and exposed to the elements, so that tannin in the timber reacts with the metal to create a bleeding pattern.

Laura Youngson Coll graduated from Sculpture in 2004 and works mainly in vellum creating intricate pieces that articulate the often overlooked details of our environment. The exhibition features three of her sculptures inspired by the 19th century biologist and philosopher Ernst Haeckel, which examine the pharmaceutical use of marine organisms. Her work was also showcased in the Jerwood Makers Open 2017, which was on show in London this summer before touring the UK.