After fifteen years, when I decided that 2008 was to be the last year of the exhibition, I was encouraged to offer the exhibition for sale rather than simply close it. This I did and on balance I now wish I had let it die.
For me the exhibition was about matching clients who had the wherewithal and appreciation of beautiful hand-made furniture to the makers who made it. I devoted myself to the promotion of their industry. The exhibition was a byword for the pursuit of excellence.
The private view, that vital window of opportunity to match maker and client, was carefully choreographed to make it an ‘occasion’ where sales were made, commissions discussed and deals were struck. It is the only part of my exhibition I miss – the vibrant energy and buzz of the moment.
Clients came from all over the UK and continental Europe to make purchases and commission work; they would make a weekend of the ‘occasion’ staying in Cheltenham and the surrounding areas.
Exhibitors regularly included icons of the industry - Makepeace, Wales & Wales, Burt, Savage, Varah, and many makers would rely on the exhibition to provide a year’s work. Most of them knew they could rely on selling and making excellent contacts for future work.
This was what I had set out to do and I was pleased with my accomplishment.
This is not what the exhibition is now, and because much of my reputation is built upon what I achieved I must distance myself from it on record. The exhibition was sold to a furniture maker and it is my opinion that there has been a shift in direction and that it is now run by a maker for makers and amateurs; clients are no longer as important.
Competitions have been introduced; these seek to give accolades to the makers, which are of no interest to the client and given the dubious qualifications of some of the judges they are worthless.
The trade press is now courted and the exhibition promoted to amateur woodworkers; clients are rarely to be found in this segment of society.
The private view has lost its energy and vibrancy. The new casual nature may increase the gate with those who wish to sit on the chairs and fiddle with whatever they want, but it will deter the clients – who will spend £10,000 at the private viewing when they know that the piece can be poked and prodded for 10 days? Even Ikea do not allow the degradation of their goods by the viewing public.
I can only apologise to the many clients and makers who have contacted me to express their disappointment and assure them that Ian and I will not be returning to the exhibition either.
Betty Norbury August 2011
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