A FILM about the renowned furniture maker John Makepeace has been produced to celebrate his 50 years at the forefront of British design.
Mr Makepeace began his career in Dorset in 1957. He spent two years as an apprentice to a former-solicitor-turned-furniture-maker called Keith Cooper. He rented a room in a council house, worked extremely hard, and won first prize for a drawing desk in a Dorset Art and Craft competition.
Then he went to train as a handicraft teacher in inner-city Birmingham. Having qualified, in the summer of 1961 he toured America, which taught him, he once said, that “anything is possible…”
1976: John Makepeace moved back to Dorset, to Parnham House, the Grade I Listed Tudor mansion just outside Beaminster. He set up a School for Craftsmen in Wood that charged higher fees than Eton, and turned out a series of internationally successful designers and makers. (The best known in Dorset now is probably Guy Mallinson, with his Monty-Don-BBC-Mastercrafts featured Woodland Workshops over at Holditch).
From bedsit to stately home in a decade and a half: it seems that anything was indeed possible.
How, and why? To answer those questions is in part the aim of the new film beautifully shot and edited by international documentary maker Robert Golden, who’s based in Dottery near Bridport.
Mr Golden has not sought to tell a straightforward chronological story, though there is a strong historical narrative runing through the section about the college set up at Hooke Park near Beaminster, and the extraordinary buildings created there.
In some ways it’s a shame that some of the unusual details of Mr Makepeace’s life get left out; I’ve always rather liked the fact that, when he won a kitchen design competition organised by The Observer back in the 1960s, he spent the money on a trip to Nigeria to study the architectural uses of mud.
But Mr Golden’s focus is on personal forces and ideas. The 26-minute film is called Essays in Wood and it reveals Mr Makepeace’s dedication to his vocation and his delight in things well-made.
“Craftsmen love being able to excel,” he says.
Essays in Wood accompanies a solo exhibition of Mr Makepeace’s work organised by the Devon Guild of Craftsmen.
The exhibition – called John Makepeace: Enriching the Language of Furniture – includes 25 pieces from public and private collections in the UK and abroad, some not previously seen by the public.
The show opens in September at The Devon Guild’s centre at Bovey Tracey, then goes on a national tour.
Visitors will be able to see a 21-minute version of Essays in Wood. The full length version, with 38 minutes of extras, will only be available to buy.
The whole film is fascinating to watch – but for now, there is the trailer above.