NHIG’s first conference ‘a true inspiration’

Forging Ahead’, the NHIG’s inaugural conference held at the V&A in November this year, was an entirely fitting celebration of our 10th anniversary, providing as it did a happy meeting of minds between craft practitioners and heritage consultants, as well as between seasoned old-timers and newly emerging makers.

The NHIG has always aimed to act as a bridge between the two worlds of those specifying work and those on the ground carrying it out. So we hoped with this conference not only to ignite interest in heritage work, but also to promote engagement between all those who are jointly involved in its care but rarely have the opportunity to share experience. 

The overwhelmingly positive feedback seems to confirm that it did just this. Comments such as: “gained insight into the practical side as I deal with the history of metalwork rather than the making” reaffirmed the “excellent atmosphere of collaboration” (as one delegate put it) that characterised the day.

Planning for the conference had focused on delivering a programme that was varied and innovative, providing a platform for new voices through the ‘10-minute champions’ open-submissions slot, and lining up a multi-disciplinary panel to promote exchange of experience.

All of the speakers were high calibre and their presentations thought-provoking and uplifting in different ways.  Keynote Heiner Zimmermann expanded on the Gustav Mahler quote: ‘Tradition is not to preserve the ashes but to pass on the flame’ by reflecting on the inspiration that historic ironwork offers to his own creative process.  Bethan Griffiths of the Ironwork Studio shared well-considered design approaches to new ironwork in heritage settings, while Alicia Robinson explored some of the cutting-edge techniques that conservators use to minimise their impact on historic fabric.  

Obviously, the museum itself, with its world-renowned ironwork collection, was also a major attraction, and the NHIG were extremely grateful to have the support of the V&A Director and active participation of senior curator Alicia Robinson, who led bespoke tours the day before the conference. 

We were delighted that over 80 students made up the 200+ delegates.  Their enthusiastic response to the day made heartening reading: “After listening to Zimmermann my design development is forever changed. It was a true inspiration to me,” said one, and “it was very exciting to experience the effort and methods undertaken to conserve historic ironwork. It has made me further understand the need to conserve it for the future.” 

Equally, less youthful delegates valued the energizing presence of so many students: “It was good to see so many interested young faces – really enjoyed the buzz” was one comment among many. All in all, it seems that this propitious gathering was both timely and welcome, and it is hoped that collaboration across the sector, between consultants and practitioners as well as between young and old, will be further strengthened over the next 10 years.


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