In a mountainous part of central Bosnia-Herzegovina, the town of Konjic has a long history of decorative woodcarving. “At one point there were 36 woodcarving workshops,” says Orhan Niksic, a former senior economist with the World Bank, whose great-grandfather founded a workshop in Konjic in the late 1800s. “By 2014, we were the only ones still going and the craft seemed to be on the verge of extinction. Now, though, it’s going through a revival,” adds Niksic, who in 2015 took over the family business with his brother, Adem. Together they launched the furniture brand Zanat to preserve the local handcraft (which features on Unesco’s list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity) and reinterpret it with contemporary designers such as Monica Förster (the brand’s creative director), Ilse Crawford and Sebastian Herkner.
Niksic’s story struck a chord with Herkner, who has included Zanat’s work in one of his latest projects: an exhibition with the Michelangelo Foundation (a non-profit organisation that champions master craftsmanship), currently on show at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. “It’s fantastic how Orhan has put all his passion into the craft of woodcarving, going back to its roots and giving it such cultural sustainability,” says Herkner, the 41-year-old German designer who has worked with furniture brands such as Cappellini, Ligne Roset and Moroso, and is known for integrating traditional craft processes into his designs.
In Venice, for the Homo Faber Event 2022, Herkner has curated Pattern of Crafts. All of the works on show are based around the stone-tiled terrace in front of the Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore. “As soon as you arrive at the island by vaporetto you see this beautiful flooring,” says Herkner, who has invited 18 European artisans to reinterpret the octagonal pattern. “We looked for artisans using different techniques, but also working in different countries.”
The results range from the boldly geometric wallpaper of east London screen-printer Daniel Heath to an intricate panel of feathers by Madrid-based artisan Henar Iglesias – a 2019 finalist for the Loewe Craft Prize. Zanat’s offering is a “mosaic of maple and walnut wood, given interesting textures with wood carving techniques”, says Niksic, while in Belgium, 27-year-old woodcarver Julien Feller has reinterpreted the pattern in an intricate and ornate style. “Julien makes wood look like lace,” says Herkner. “It’s stunning work, carving layers that are just a millimetre thick.” The process behind each piece will be highlighted in the exhibition – and on the Homo Faber website and app – via photography and film.
While some of the artisans are an obvious fit with Herkner’s eclectic contemporary aesthetic – the Spanish weaving house Naturtex, for instance, which is translating heritage techniques from the fashion and footwear industries into interior fabrics – others are much more decorative. Normandy-based Séverina Lartigue creates delicate fabric flowers from recycled materials. “It’s completely different to my work,” says Herkner, “but I think that it’s important to show the variety and potential of craft.”
Herkner has also worked with Edition van Treeck in Munich, an ongoing collection of handmade design objects launched in 2015 by Katja Zukic and Raphaela Knein. As well as working with artist Gerhard Richter on three stained-glass church windows, they have launched their own range of objects – including the layered-glass Pastille side tables by Herkner. “The artwork we created for Homo Faber is called Red’n’Ball,” says Zukic. “It is a hand-refined glass pane that is backlit, so the pattern shines through pink, orange gradient and a deep red. Transparent red is the most spectacular colour in modern glass painting.”
Venice’s own craft history, however, is represented not by glass but by textiles in the form of a bespoke wallcovering from Rubelli, the fifth-generation fabric house founded in 1858. “We have woven a special fabric reproducing the elegant pattern in white and green-grey, strictly respecting specific measures and repeats,” says CEO Nicolò Favaretto Rubelli of the design that will form the backdrop to all the artworks. It will bring together the textiles woven by Violaine Buet from seaweed collected in her native Brittany, the colourful marquetry of Berlin-based Tabea Vietzke pieced together from single pieces of straw, and the painstaking embroidery of Francisco Carrera Iglesias in Seville.
“Gold embroidery is my passion,” says Carrera Iglesias, whose handiwork has graced bullfighter’s boleros and Loewe frocks, and will have been seen this week on ecclesiastical garments across Spain’s Holy Week processions. For the Venice show he used sequins and beads, as well as pure gold thread in a churrigueresco-style panel. It’s the final flourish in Herkner’s multilayered vision, celebrating the broad church of contemporary craft.
Pattern of Crafts is at the Barbantini Hall at Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice, until 1 May