Antiques of the future
Interior architect Yves Michiels is an extremely persuasive man. When he’s expounding his vision of craftsmanship, he’s passionate: “You can see craftsmanship. You can touch it. It’s the result of years and years of experience, passed down through generations. Such craftsmanship should not be lost. It should be cherished.”
Craftsmen to the stars strut their stuff at exceptional festival
These ideas are at the heart of The Embassy of Craftsmanship, a four-day exhibition in Westmalle, Antwerp province (yes, where the beer is brewed). Organised by Michiels, he describes it as a platform for Flemish cultural heritage. From 20 to 23 March, some of Flanders’ most brilliant craftsmen and women will show off their skills and virtuoso creations.
Among the crowds will be nine Flemish artisans. Jan Poelmans has made furniture for the royal families of Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK, as well as for Mick Jagger and Ralph Lauren. Each item of Anja Meeusen’s pottery is handmade and is in great demand in top restaurants in Flanders and beyond.
Patrick Bosmans, meanwhile, originally studied to be a saddle-maker before moving into authentic leather upholstery of furniture and walls. Peter Van Cronenburg runs his own foundry producing hand-made architectural hardware. Patrick Damiaens is the only full-time ornamental wood carver in Flanders and specializes in Liège-style furniture.
Geert Geeraerts is another furniture maker, specialising in custom-made, solid oak items. Bert Declerck’s specialty is marquetry, the ancient art of furniture decoration. Kobe De Peuter is a painter and art photographer currently exhibiting in Barcelona, while JP Boucquet creates exquisite chandeliers for mansions, churches and castles.
“All the exhibitors are top-quality professionals,” adds Michiels. “It is a golden opportunity not only to see their exceptional work but also to support it.”
Michiels himself practices what he preaches. His approach as an interior architect encompasses a deep respect for traditional materials such as wood, leather, bronze and natural stone. Wherever possible, he works side-by-side with traditional artisans, although he admits they are an endangered breed.
“It grieves me when I hear of a stonemason’s business closing down or a college stopping a wood-carving course due to lack of students,” he says. “I don’t think our government is doing enough to encourage or support traditional artisans. We have to cherish our cultural heritage. Otherwise it will be lost, forever.”
Michiels is equally convincing on the ecological arguments of craftsmanship. He points out an oak washstand at the exhibition that incorporates the combined work of four of the craftsmen. It is locally made, with locally sourced materials, so its carbon footprint is minimal. It’s made entirely from natural materials, with not even a whiff of a fossil-fuel based plastic. And it is built to last, to be passed down from generation to generation.
In other words, it’s definitely an antique of the future.
Embassy of Craftsmanship
Berckhovenstraat 11, Westmalle