Hugo and James in conversation
Bard's founders discuss the origins of and ambitions for their project.
Hugo: Let’s start at the very beginning…
James: It is a very good place to start.
Hugo: Why are we doing this?
James: In the decade that we’ve been together and spending ever more time in Edinburgh and travelling around Scotland, we’ve always talked about building somewhere that showcases and promotes quality craft and design made here. We have felt the absence of a destination that bridges the wide gap between gallery and lifestyle store, with a focus on storytelling.
James & Dougal on Eigg Dougal & Hugo on Morar
Hugo: The idea for Bard has been in gestation for years, as you say. There is a multitude of extraordinary craftspeople practising in Scotland. The simple idea was to bring the work of this community together into a physical environment that celebrates the heritage and future of Scottish craft simultaneously.
James: The pandemic accelerated our plans. We had both been working as independent consultants, fortunately keeping busy over the two years of chaos. When life opened up again, we felt keenly that we did not want to just open our laptops and keep going as before. We wanted to put our time, energy and savings into creating something in the real world, with and for people.
Hugo: We had a frank - “If not now, then when?” - discussion. Suddenly ideas became plans. We found the perfect building, home and community at Custom Lane in Leith. And before we knew it we were embarking on a road (and ferry) trip all over Scotland to meet people and find out first-hand who is making what, where, how and why.
James in the Skye Marble quarry at Torrin
James: We spent almost ten weeks, starting in the Borders and using it as a base to explore Dumfries & Galloway, Ayrshire and Glasgow. Then we went up the west coast, reaching Skye where we hopped over to the Small Isles. From there we travelled on up to Wester Ross and Sutherland, over to Orkney and on up to Shetland. We got the ferry back to Aberdeen and worked our way back south via the Cairngorms, Fife, Perthshire and finally reached Edinburgh early September.
Hugo: We met around 60 makers, designers and manufacturers. It really was the trip of a lifetime, and an intensive, comprehensive induction into contemporary Scottish culture as whole.
Pascal from All About Willow, Eigg Waxed cotton at Halley Stevensons, Dundee
James: You grew up on Skye and have always identified proudly as Scottish, despite having lived south of the border for most of your adult life. What did the trip reveal to you?
Hugo: Firstly, and reassuringly, that there is an exciting diversity of courageous people making a living through making, inspired and informed by their active choice to call Scotland home. Secondly, that Scotland – or perhaps Scottishness – is ripe for reappraisal in how we project who we are and what we are made of, to ourselves and the world beyond. It rankles with me that impressions of Scotland tend to get stuck with romanticised Victorian tropes of tartan and tam o’ shanters. There is a great deal of ingenuity, resourcefulness and humour that isn’t captured in the image we project as a nation outwards.
Walking on water in Pittenweem
James: For my part, I’ve been struck by the more recent tendency to portray Scotland as a dreamy culture of epic landscapes in soft focus. The sharp wit and grit have been sanded down into representation of a more Nordic lifestyle, which doesn’t feel accurate to our experience. I’m thinking of intrepid beach picnics in the stinging wind; driving rain that threatens to shatter the windscreen; and raucous pub nights in remote communities where the celebration of life is every bit as intoxicating as the Tennent's and whisky chasers.
Hugo: We experienced our fair share of all the above and it is our mission to distil this into a mood at Bard that honours Scottishness with all its natural glamour and rough edges. Craft encapsulates these aspects beautifully. It is not about lifestyle in the cosy, trend-driven understanding of the word. Craft is about knowledge and skill, heads and hands, ideas and objects, old and new, all together. Have we managed to capture some of this do you feel?
Scaring crows on Orkney Wobbly Digital's 3D-printing studio, Glasgow
James: We’ve spoken a lot about our values as a way of grounding what we do with clear principles that shape the decisions we make. We’ve settled on Bold, Kind, Fun – which I feel is true to who we are, and also what is compelling to us about Scotland. Bard is a starting point and we’ve frequently discussed how it will develop and evolve in numerous ways. We have a wonderful community of makers and designers already with us; what’s exciting is that there is so many more people and stories out there. This is just the beginning.
Hugo: Precisely. What I hope we have created is a warm and welcoming home for people to come and learn about the value of craft in contemporary life, and its place in culture and society beyond. We want people to come in and ask questions. Hopefully these will be "what, why, where and how?" and not only "how much?". We are excited at the prospect of opening up the value of craft beyond purely commercial and aesthetic measures.
The legendary Anstruther Fish Bar Watching the rain in Lerwick
James: And we also want to help people understand the intrinsic value of living with craft in daily life. So many of the people whose work we are showcasing speak beautifully about the power of craft to ground and elevate daily experiences: cooking, cleaning, drinking, eating, or lying on the sofa under a blanket watching Ru Paul.
Hugo: I’m looking forward to a time in life when we can do that again! And do we have an answer for the people who have asked why we are embarking on such a venture at a time when Britain is facing its worst recession in our lifetime?
James: The worst time is often also the best time to be bold. We have each other and we are doing something we feel passionately about, which is always the best starting point. We want to help people who are not so affected by the cost of living crisis to invest in things of integrity and substance that directly sustain people and communities, culturally, socially and economically.
Hugo: Onwards and upwards. Please come and visit us for some bog myrtle tea from Shetland or a dram from Speyside.
An offering to the wind gods in Shetland
Learn more about Bard, the Makers and browse the Shop.