20 minutes with Arthur and Rachel Cadman

Friday 6 July 2018

Having recently won the Gold Medal for wood and metal in the 2012 Craft and Design Magazine 'elected Awards', we thought it was about time we spoke to this furniture maker and artist/designer duo and find out more about their perfect partnership. The pair says their work ranges from simplistic designs through to artistically flamboyant statements and that they enjoy the exciting possibilities attainable in making their lovingly handcrafted pieces.

F&C: What are you working on at the moment?

Rachel Cadman: At the moment we are working towards a London show, the â'Concours d'Elegance' which is at the beginning of July. We also have a waiting list of work so are in the beginning stages of a pair of curvaceous tables and a walnut bedroom suite.

F&C:: Why did you become furniture makers?

A&RC: It was a chance encounter in a library with a book by the late, great Alan Peters. With no previous woodworking experience, I found myself instantly engaged with his work and the material. That was it; within this book was the career change I had been looking for. I somehow managed to win a bursary from the 'Carpenters Company' and went off to study for just one year at Rycotewood. OK, so I didn't even know which end of a chisel to sharpen and knew it was going to be a steep learning curve, but I had a secret weapon – my then wife to be, Rachel, who was already a successful book illustrator.

F&C: What inspires you?

A&RC: Luckily, we are both drawn to similar visual art forms from contemporary makers of all mediums, along with an appreciation for classic styles of Art Deco, Art Nouveau, etc. Inspiration can hit when you least expect it – it's exciting – and it's always best to try and have a pen and paper in your pocket.

F&C: If your furniture were music, what kind of music would it be?

A&RC: Sensual like Barry White? No, just kidding! I think everyone's interpretation is subjective. Depending on the character of each individual piece, it could range from a beautiful Mozart aria to some up-tempo Latin beats.

F&C: What do you admire in the craft at the moment?

A&RC: The sheer diversity and amount of designer/makers in the UK. I have only been doing this for 11 years so it is hard to gauge but I feel there is a growing collective awareness now for well-made locally crafted work which will stand the test of time and can also be passed down through later family generations. It's also a common recurring theme in the media of 'buying British' and that should be all encompassing, from your local veg box scheme to luxury bespoke goods.

F&C: Who has been your greatest mentor/role model?

A&RC: We have both taken a lot of inspiration from such eminent makers as James Krenov, John Makepeace and David Savage; whether for the iconic furniture they produced or the creative ethos they worked by.

F&C: What comes first, design or technique?

A&RC: Always design. Rachel is blessed with what I consider to be a naturally artistic mind and I think she sees the world very differently to me. I love the way she just sketches away and creates such beautifully tactile shapes. Judging by the reception our work has received at exhibitions and now with our Craft & Design Gold Medal, on reflection, I think we have managed to combine our skills to great effect resulting in a very successful working relationship.

F&C: Are we too obsessed with outdated modes of work?

A&RC: Not at all, it's our evolutionary history. The technological world has driven a big wedge between us and the connection with our humble surroundings. It's been evolving at an unprecedented rate since the industrial revolution and it is no surprise that mechanical repetition has fed the greed of capitalists rather than fed the families of many. I think we could all do well to take a leaf out of a Japanese joiner's working day!

That said, have you seen the video on the web for the making of the 'Branca' chair? It's incredible and also pretty scary that such an intricate product can be made by a machine – it's a bit like when the farm labourers first saw farming implements turning up in the fields.

F&C: How or where do you exhibit your work?

A&RC: Our main retailing space is at 'Craft in the Bay' in Cardiff. It is the gallery of the 'Makers Guild in Wales' and we are very proud to be members. We have had some superb customers walk through the door for which we are very grateful. We do attend a small number of exhibitions elsewhere but find it difficult to make enough speculative pieces. By the very nature of how designer/makers need to get out there and find their customers, it is so easy to take on every opportunity that arises, which

in turn leads to a ridiculous workload.

F&C: How comfortable are you with working at someone else's design?

A&RC: We vary rarely work with other designers except for the odd customer who offers an idea and would then ask us to inject our style of work into it. The more questions I answer here, the more I realise we are total control freaks.

F&C: Do you consider yourself an artist or a craftsman?

A&RC: We have always considered ourselves as craftsmen but we are definitely crossing the invisible boundaries into the art world. We are hearing comments like, 'now that's a piece of art' more commonly these days. Rachel is finding her creative juices again that were understandably sacrificed whilst bringing up young children so, now they are both at school, she is able to exploit her urge to make things again. I see us as an equal partnership, the acknowledgment for her very important role in our business has led on to her wanting to have more involvement in the workshop rather than mostly being tied to designing.

F&C: What advice would you give to someone starting out?

A&RC: Question yourself about how you will gauge your success in 10 years time. Please don't fool yourself into thinking that your fine product alone is enough; you will need a sensible business head on your shoulders to deal with the day-to-day running of

your venture.

F&C: What irritates you about the industry?

A&RC: There just isn't enough awareness and understanding of the many talented craftsmen around. Many people just don't understand the sheer amount of time involved in creating something unique – from conception to completion. I always struggle with the astronomical price tags hanging on contemporary fine art and wonder how the work of a craftsman, hour-for-hour, is not accepted at the same value.