Common Wealth has two main collaborators. The legendary Art Deco interior of Glasgow cocktail bar and restaurant Rogano has inspired the zigzag motif described by the mould and head chef Andy Cumming has provided for it exclusive jelly recipes. Highland Stoneware, established in Lochinver, Sutherland in 1975, supplied the clay body, as well as finishing the moulds in their factory. Thus two institutions offering very distinct perspectives on Scottish heritage are brought together.
Rogano’s history is rooted in the 1920s and 1930s, the great age of the ocean liner. It was styled and decorated by many of the designers and trades people involved in the manufacture of Cunard’s Queen Mary liner in John Brown and Co’s yard in Clydebank. Highland Stoneware’s story is no less interesting. It presents a more kilted vision of Scotland’s post-industrial struggle, with its skillfully decorated pots adorned with ‘timeless’ representations of wildflowers, fishing boats, salmon and Highland scenes.
The appropriation of these two icons of Scottish heritage is a marker of a key cultural and economic shift that is familiar to many post-industrial nations. This shift concerns the move from an industrial manufacturing base to a service and tourism economy. That the shift to service and tourism is represented by one of Britain’s few remaining tableware factories, and the pre-war manufacturing boom years is represented by a cocktail bar and restaurant, is not just a historic irony.
In the heady self-confidence of the boom years questions of precisely what gets made become somewhat secondary to the glamour and style of making itself. Whilst making doesn’t quite take care of itself, it nevertheless has its own justification in the frenzy of seemingly never- ending demand. This is the background for the international, exotic and luxury style movement of Art Deco. Restaurants, cocktail bars and ocean liners are the ultimate expression of this confident internationalism centered on travel and entertainment.
More recently, when manufacturing shifts to distant, cheaper shores and global competition has threatened to overwhelm, what gets made here becomes the subject for intense debate. A product’s vernacular styling and market position as a localised ‘national’ brand can be crucial. Highland Stoneware’s turn towards the industrial application of craft techniques and its pastoral subject matter is a symptom of this shift. The hand finished, unique application of the makers’ skill is a self- conscious reminder to the consumer that the product has in fact been ‘hand made’ (in Scotland).
Common Wealth is a thoroughly contemporary effort to bridge this gap between a confident internationalism and a neo-traditional, self-conscious national vernacular. In bringing together two partners with such distinct histories and contexts West challenges herself to produce a synthesis that allows both these stories to flourish. Perhaps more significantly, the souvenir that West has produced must also work on its own terms, independently of its partners, as an authentic, desirable and fully functioning piece of kitchenware.
How does your work for Scotland Can Make It! relate to the notion of 'the souvenir'?
My work for Scotland Can Make It comprises of a jelly mould and a tea towel, two common form of souvenir seen the world over. It has been a conscious decision to work with such recognisable forms of ‘souvenir’ to question what the notion of souvenir means and to probe and develop this into objects with resonance and meaning that truly encompass the traits of such a thing.
Does your souvenir create associations to a particular time, place or memory?
The Common Wealth Jelly Mould binds two distinct cultural institutions of Scotland. Through production at Highland Stoneware, a company routed in giving meaning to a location through painted imagery on their wares, the mould acknowledges the powerful sense of time and places that souvenirs may evoke. Secondly the form of the object reference Rogano’s in Glasgow. Although this company is routed in place through its location it evokes an era of travel, trade and internationalism seen in Glasgow is the 20’s, and the cruise liners that the restaurant’s interior references. Therefor if ‘souvenir’ is about encapsulating a time and place through an object, this jelly mould seeks to explore how considerations to material and form can illustrate this.
How does Scotland or Glasgow manifest itself in your souvenir?
The production and process of the jelly mould reference a Scottish industry that is all about its geography, flora and wildlife. The form and decoration reference the fabric of an old Glaswegian institution. The mould is a thoroughly modern interpretation of both these references produced with contemporary means.
How important is it that your idea is developed and manufactured in Scotland?
It was an important challenge to discover what and if could be produced in Scotland. Secondly was the question – Does it need to be produced in Scotland? Certainly something similar could be produced nearly anywhere in the world – Ceramics is everywhere, and so too, now, a host of digital methods of production that were utilised in this process. However, the fact is it has all been possible to make within Scotland, and the patina of the object pays testament to the quality and diversity of manufacturing possibilities still routed within this country.
What is the cultural value of working closely with industry partner based in Scotland?
A lot of the process of working with industry partners involves phone calls emails and persuasion. Trust must be gained before a collaboration of this nature can happen. The financial value of such a partnership is not always immediately apparent. Designers, by nature like to probe and challenge while an industrial mind strives for economy and efficiency at every stage. However, when collaboration like this works, something happens that produces work that is more than the sum of either individual part could ever be.
In what way do you feel Scotland Can Make It! challenges or sits alongside the traditional idea of mass produced, low cost merchandise usually available to commemorate such large-scale events as Glasgow 2014?
I think that this collection of souvenirs sits apart from the usual generic souvenirs such a high profile event creates. I do not feel my, or any of the souvenirs, is in any way critical of or referencing such merchandise. I feel this project has got to the route of what ‘souvenir’ means and produced a range of objects that are universal in their appeal whilst being specific to a time and place through their content and physical makeup.