Focus on Cornish makers: Kinsley Byrne
Photographs John Hersey
The furniture maker explains the beauty of working in wood, as part of our highlight on Cornwall with Design Frontier for the British Craft Pavilion, curated by Hole & Corner…
Design Frontier is a new initiative for showcasing exceptional design and craft from Cornwall. This launching showcase at British Craft Pavilion is part of the Cultivator Programme, and was made possible through funding from European Structural and Investment Funds, Arts Council England and Cornwall Council.
What do you do?
My work explores the making of furniture and symbolic artifacts by direct carving in wood. This involves developing ideas relating to science and philosophy, with an often metaphorical connection to existence and the human journey. This creative practice allows for a greater framework to express ideas and emotions, away from the constraints of traditional joinery.
What materials do you like to work with?
My grandfather and great grandfather made furniture In Yorkshire: if they had been stonemasons maybe I would work in stone. But the tools that were laying around when I grew up were for working in wood. Aged 30 and living in North Wales, I bought an old fishing boat – and the unusual thing about it was that all the chain plates and other fittings were cast from bronze and not iron, so to replace the broken and cracked parts, I had to make patterns from wood and send them off to be cast. I love the colors of bronze, the way it polishes and patinas with time. That you can make an object in wood and turn it into bronze is something I find fascinating – it’s like having a copy of something in a material that lasts forever.
How would you describe your working ethos?
I always strive to make the best that I can and to push myself to make better, like a surfer looking for the perfect wave. I often find myself searching for the perfect process, where you are in the right mind, everything is at hand and everything turns out as expected. This has yet to happen of course, because each piece I make is different and each piece of wood is different and each day is different.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned?
That you never stop learning, there will never be a time when you can switch off. Especially keeping up to date with technology, which requires constant learning and upgrading to what you think you know, accepting new ideas and new information…
Do you sense that people’s attitudes towards mass-produced objects are changing?
I hope so, but handmade objects are still a niche market. In many ways we are still escaping the vast industrialisation and attitudes of the Victorian era – look at what William Morris tried to do over 100 years ago as a backlash to factory floors filled with hundreds of people in soulless jobs. New technology will allow for more flexible production on a smaller scale. I think most people still buy mass-produced items they need from supermarkets. I don’t think mass production is bad – it is very desirable to have consistency and it has to work and be affordable… it’s an odd irony that with 7 billion people on the planet, less and less are needed to fill the factories. It is a complex subject and a double-edged sword.
Kinsley Byrne is taking part in British Craft Pavilion as part of Design Frontier, a new initiative for showcasing exceptional design and craft from Cornwall. This launching showcase is part of the Cultivator Programme, and was made possible through funding from European Structural and Investment Funds, Arts Council England and Cornwall Council. cultivatorcornwall.org.uk; kinsleybyrne.com