DMU's new exhibition Artifacts Live champions ancient crafts and skills

Stunning new designs were showcased alongside antique creations designed by craftspeople hundreds of years ago at the launch of Artifacts Live: A Legacy of Leather.

De Montfort University Leicester (DMU)’s Museum opened the new exhibition at a launch attended by students, graduates, industry artisans and The Worshipful Company of Leathersellers, an ancient livery based in the City of London, which dates from 1444.

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And DMU was given an award by international organisation Real Leather, Stay Different in recognition of its work to champion leathercraft and commitment to teaching heritage crafts and skills to the next generation.

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Associate Professor Gillian Proctor said: “DMU is renowned for its innovation, creativity and technological brilliance. The Artifacts Live: A Legacy in Leather project exemplifies all that. So much of our cultural heritage and hand honed skills acquired over centuries of artisanship have been lost in striving to achieve technological development.

"One of our USPs is that across all of our workshops students have access to and are taught hand devised techniques, utilising in some areas, decades-old equipment as well as being encouraged to spearhead emerging technologies alongside that. We can devise so much from our creative and cultural heritage; inspiration, accreditation, inspiration. I devised this project for that very format. Celebrate these skills we are in danger of losing for future generations, celebrate the methodologies, the cultural difference and wider aesthetic applications and enjoy the incredible results derived from both the Artifacts team and the Artifactors. We celebrate their incredible success.”

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The Artifacts Live project was launched in January last year with DMU’s Faculty of Arts, Design and Humanities working with the Museum of Leathercraft and the university’s archives team and professional designers to create the exhibition.

Over 11 months, a group of students from different design courses were immersed in the world of leathercraft, visiting tanneries, the workshops of designers such as Bill Amberg, Pittards tannery  and the UK base of designer handbag maker Mulberry, to fully comprehend the variances of artisans working with leather.

The Museum of Leathercraft loaned 20 items to DMU, ranging from a 17th C Japanese Samurai riding saddle to Elizabethan gauntlets, a 14th century strongbox and Doge’s Gondola chair from the height of the Renaissance period in Venice. Students selected two items which most inspired them, and created new work that would be shown alongside these items in the final exhibition, using the techniques they had acquired.

Many discovered a new passion which has changed the direction of their creative careers – typified by Ana Del Rio Mullarkey, who went on to win The Innovation Award at Graduate Fashion Week and several international awards in the Real Leather STAY Different Global leather Competition for her designs, awarded in fashion capital Milan. Ana’s now setting up her own business, specialising in leather designs.

“This project is where is all started,” she said. “I had never worked with leather before this and it is where I found my passion. It’s quite surreal seeing this exhibition now and thinking back to the beginning.”

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Olivia Bodak, Contour Fashion Innovation MA, was inspired to 3D print designs onto leather “I really loved it. I loved working with leather and learning all the different techniques, going to Mulberry was incredible, seeing the attention they put into everything they produce. It was an amazing opportunity I have learned so much.

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Donghyeon Kim, who graduates this week (Jan 23) from BA Fashion Design, said: “This has helped me to push my creative boundaries. Through Artifacts Live, I advanced my love of designing with leather and was supported in creating garments that evoked profound emotional connections. My work embodies LGBTQ culture and aims to challenge stereotypes.”

Fashion Design student Mine Yeter combined traditional Turkish workwear with leather features, inspired by her grandfather’s farm in the Besni Adiyaman province. “I’ve done arts and crafts since I was a child and Artifacts Live has unlocked a passion in me to work with leather which was something I had never done before, and I’m hoping to open my own studio.”

Alistair Tusting, Chairman of the court of the Leathersellers, praised the work from everyone involved in the project. He said: “Part of our mission is to support education and Artifacts Live has helped our goals for what we try to do in terms of education in a fantastically creative way. It has drawn together a whole range of different organisations and ultimately, it has only been possible thanks to the students themselves who have created some wonderful garments.”

Greg Moore of the Real Leather Stay Different campaign which promotes leather as a sustainable material presented DMU with an award for the Artifacts Live project. The competition had 2,000 entrants from 42 countries and 130 institutions. He said: “I think what you do here at DMU is amazing, and we wanted to make a special presentation to recognise the work that you have done to support leathercrafts and in inspiring the next generation of designers.”

Posted on Monday 22 January 2024

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