Culture Victoria

Craft in Context - interview with Robyn Phelan from Bluestone Collection

By Craft Victoria Posted Under Craft in Context interviews

The Bluestone Collection draws its name from the foundation stones of the city of Melbourne and actively challenges the current status of collecting contemporary craft in Victoria by public institutions. The act of acquisition is an act of encouragement, support and growth of contemporary craft.

Vipoo Srivilasa, Soup Bowl (aka Weedy Seadragon Bowl), 2012, dinner plate, cobalt pigment on porcelain with clear glaze and liquid gold , 10 x 25 x 25 cm , photographer Andrew Barcham, acquired Nellie Castan Gallery, courtesy of Scott Livesey Galleries, Melbourne

Bluestone Collection occupies a unique position in the active acquisition of contemporary Australian craft. Can you please describe the circumstances surrounding the initial formation of the Bluestone Collection’s Executive Committee and provide insight into the selection and negotiation process associated with the first acquisition?

Throughout 2010, a small group of like-minded people gathered on the third Wednesday evening to thrash out what the collection might be. We reviewed the constitutions of similar collections and spent many meetings defining our focus. Our vision for the collection is to promote current Australian craft exhibition practice and foster dialogue. Unlike many private art collections, the Bluestone Collection is not an investment portfolio. We decided to register with Consumer Affairs to become an Incorporated Association (not for profit) entity, which offered us a set of rules, parameters and guidelines under which to legally operate.

In addition to this we created an Acquisition Policy. This was excitingly and strenuously discussed and states our objective as:
(a) To develop knowledge of contemporary craft practice by actively examining and reviewing exhibition practice in Victoria.
(b) Acquisition of works on an annual basis by a rigorous selection process.
(c) To create a lasting collection of contemporary craft exhibited in Victoria over a minimum of ten-years.

Our scope is that:
(a) The collection is to be drawn from Australian artists exhibiting in Victoria within the calendar year the acquisition is made.
(b) The collection is limited to only those artists who have current Australian residence.

The first acquisition was a work of ceramics by Sue Robey, entitled Splay, 2010 made from ceramic paperclay and coloured engobe. This was from her solo exhibition at Craft Victoria in the same year.

Nick Bastin, Round Container with Mountain and Colour (2010-2012),neckpiece with object: polyurethane resin, wood, linen, 7 x 10.5 x 60cm (chain length), photography by Jeremy Dillon, acquired Craft Victoria

As many of the Committee members are practicing craftspeople does this influence the nature of the work that is acquired as part of the collection or underlying aesthetic considerations?

Initially the fact that all foundation members were either practicing craftspeople or industry professionals who had many years of working within the craft industry, was a tremendous influence on all aspects of this association. We were like-minded and passionate to make a positive change in the status quo. These values were the driving impetus to come together in the spirit of encouraging not only the exhibition of craft but also to promote and engage in a dialogue surrounding contemporary craft practice.

With Melbourne’s vibrant and prolific craft community it is often difficult to keep abreast of exhibitions. What strategies does the Bluestone Collection’s Committee rely on to remain informed of exhibitions and special events occurring in Melbourne and the wider Victorian craft communities?

One the first documents created was the ‘craftspeople to watch list’. This is expanded each meeting and much stimulating discussion surrounds the entry of each craftsperson.
Our method of communication has developed as we have grown. Initially we used email groups to spread the word about openings and making arrangements about who would attend exhibitions. Googlegroups is now uses to communicate and store documents.
Recently we identified which galleries show contemporary craft. Each member has selected their favourites and will sing the praises of the Bluestone Collection when visiting these galleries as a way of promoting the collection and contemporary craft.

Maureen Faye-Chauhan, Two Cups brooch (2013), heat coloured mild steel, 10.5 x 6 x 6cm, photography by Janak Chauhan, acquired Gallery Funaki

How does the acquisition process operate? For example does each member of the Executive Committee formally present suggestions, do several Committee members need to view the work in person before deliberation and is there a set timeframe to reach consensus?

A craftsperson is usually championed by one of the members. This name is then placed on the ‘watch list’ and we eagerly wait for exhibition. An acquisition party of at least three members attend the exhibition opening or special viewing and acquire on behalf of the group. Of the nine works to date, not one acquisition has been the result of an exacting process and fortunately our Acquisition Policy provides strong parameters but also the flexibility to take into account the opportunities present at an exhibition. The nuanced differences between expectation, opinion, quality of exhibition and price range make for exhilarating discussions and outcome.

To the best of your knowledge, are the activities of the Bluestone Collection creating a resurgence and renewed awareness in the importance of collecting contemporary craft amongst private collectors and public based collections?

It would be Bluestone Collection’s great ambition that we have inspired resurgence in the importance of collecting contemporary craft. Commercial and non- for-profit galleries are certainly becoming aware of our purpose and once the website is completed, we can spread the news about exciting works acquired already.

Vito Bila, Jug #5 (2014), copper, shibu ichi, silver, photography by Anna Davern, acquired Craft Victoria

Is there any advice you would give to a small collective in its formative stages, which may be considering following a similar route?

Start with a small group of like-minded passionate people and nut out your guiding principles before expanding association numbers and acquiring work. We found that the legal structure provided by being an incorporated association with Consumer Affairs allowed us to focus on our direct mission of creating a collection of craft with the peace of mind that we were operating in a legal manner.

The Model Rules are:
* prepare a written document/guide how your association operates 
* construct a contract between the association and its members 
* set out your association's purposes 
* list the rights and responsibilities of members and office holders.

We enlisted the advice of an accountant who had worked in many not for profit associations on how to structure the membership. It is handy to have an accountant as a member or a supporter of the collection for advice and assistance at the end of the financial year.


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