Hereford Cathedral

Summary of activity

Crafting the Cathedral is an annual project where students from Hereford College of Arts (HCA) take inspiration from Hereford Cathedral and create works which are showcased in an exhibition in the cathedral’s crypt. The project has been running since 2017.

Hereford Cathedral works with second year students from HCA’s BA (Hons) Contemporary Design Crafts and BA (Hons) Jewellery Design courses. Their areas of craft include jewellery, ceramics, textiles, glass and mixed media. The students are introduced to the cathedral through a guided tour and are then encouraged to explore the building, its art, history, people, and theology and create a work in response to their research.

‘The sacred space of Hereford Cathedral has been a source of creative inspiration for centuries. Carrying on this tradition, it has been wonderful to welcome the students from HCA for their Crafting the Cathedral exhibition. They were invited to produce a piece of work in response to anything in the cathedral, and the results are amazingly diverse and impress with their originality, imagination, energy, thoughtfulness and skill.’

Dr Rosemary Firman, Cathedral Librarian

Exhibit titled 'Trinity' crafted by a student from Hereford College of Arts and inspired by Hereford Cathedral, displayed within the cathedral's crypt

Image credit: Mandy Roland-Smith and Gordon Taylor

Challenges and opportunities

Originally Libby Vale and James Smith, lecturers at HCA, approached Hereford Cathedral. They wanted to offer students a project which would help them develop their research skills and thought the cathedral could help with this. The cathedral had not done anything like this before. However, a core mission of the cathedral is to connect with people who wouldn’t normally visit, and this project presented an opportunity for that to happen.

At first the library and archive team organised a formal tour for the students, but they soon realised that the students did not need a lot of historical information, instead they needed someone to highlight the art works and some historical items which may inspire them. They were encouraged to use the library and archive to undertake further exploration and research, but it wasn’t essential. About half of students choose to explore the library and archive further. They were guided towards manuscripts, library books about art collections and the Beddoe collection, a collection of historical prints and photographs of the cathedral and people associated with it.

The students produced a huge diversity of work, everything was unique and ranged in scale from tiny pieces of jewellery to a huge willow sculpture which took up a whole wall of the crypt. One key challenge for the students was working out how they could exhibit their work in a Grade I listed building. They could only use existing structures, pillars and fixings in the walls alongside movable plinths and showcases. In addition, the medieval crypt is down a set of narrow stairs, so students needed to create something which worked within these restrictions.

Outcome for service users

The students who took part in this project gained an enormous sense of pride, especially when they saw their work exhibited in Hereford’s most iconic building. The project  encouraged students to try new approaches, and many used it as an opportunity to work in a new medium. Students were also able to sell their works at the exhibition. Some of the work produced by students was purchased by the cathedral including a textile piece and stained-glass map of Hereford.

To date there has not been a formal evaluation of the project. However, it is well received by HCA and by senior members of Hereford Cathedral.

‘It’s been a really important, demanding, yet rewarding challenge to create interpretive objects that live up to the building, the people and items that live there. The Cathedral and its varied artefacts have astonishing metaphorical power, our students have been able to effectively focus upon some of their curious and interesting stories.

The course at HCA has for some time worked closely with a range of external partners exploring new ways of engaging audiences with objects and places. The responses to Hereford Cathedral – its stunning architecture, history and purpose as a place of worship – has led to an engaging mix of creative response.’

Helen Marton, HCA Course Leader

It is now an established project and the partnership between the cathedral and HCA has grown to a point where a new project is being developed.

What was learned from the process?

For Dr. Rosemary Firman, Crafting the Cathedral is one of the most enjoyable projects she has been involved with. She notes that ‘it is always rewarding and surprising to see what the students develop, the quality and thoughtfulness in their work. What they produce exceeds any expectations’.

One thing that worked well with Crafting the Cathedral is the overall administration and management of the project. It was very straight forward and not as time intensive as initially envisaged to set it up. The creation of a basic plan for showing the students around and ensuring that they had enough information to work with but not be overwhelmed worked very well.

It has also been a very successful partnership with HCA. In working closely with tutors, it was possible to remove any perceived barriers to student’s research. This included opening up the reading room, not expecting students to make appointments and encouraging them to lead their own research.

Hereford Cathedral has embraced modern art and in January 2022 hosted an exhibition by internationally acclaimed artist Yinka Shonibare in partnership with Meadow Arts. The exhibition: Creatures of the Mappa Mundi was inspired by the ‘strange creatures and alien races’ of the famous medieval world map held at the cathedral. To coincide with this exhibition, quilt artworks were made with a diverse range of partners across Hereford including Diploma in Art & Design students from HCA, the Courtyard Hereford’s Creative Ageing project; Rose Tinted Rags and charity for disabled people, Echo; young people from SHYPP (Supported Housing for Young People Project) and Hereford River Carnival.

Key advice

The key piece of advice Hereford Cathedral would give to anyone thinking of taking on a similar project is to go for it, don’t hesitate to get started. From their experience the set up and running of the project was not as onerous as they had initially thought it would be. A discussion with HCA clarified what was required from the library and archive and what would be undertaken by HCA.

Most of the practical and administrative elements of the project were provided by HCA. The library and archive learned quickly what students needed from a tour and it didn’t take long to work out an offer which would act as an inspiration for their work.

The partnership with HCA has been a huge success and developed beyond the original ambition of providing students with an opportunity to enhance their research skills. The project has exceeded expectations on both sides and continues to be a key event in the diary for HCA and Hereford Cathedral.

How will this work be developed in the future?

Crafting the Cathedral continues to be a successful project. There are plans to extend the project to other year groups at HCA, funding allowing. This may include hosting a weekend festival of artist makers and working with first year technology students to explore problem solving.

The partnership with HCA has led to another project where students responded to the themes of a special exhibition titled Strangers: world views and marginalising the ‘Other’. The project encouraged students to explore the concepts highlighted in the exhibition of difference, marginalisation and sense of self.

Strangers was inspired by the Mappa Mundi, the largest surviving medieval world map, and the jewel in the crown of the Cathedral’s library and archive collection. It explored how human beings throughout history have covered their fear of the unknown with stereotypical and distorted misinterpretations of those who appear different to themselves: the ‘Other’. It shows how we all tend to see ourselves at the centre of things, marginalise and distrust strangers, and exaggerate differences.

HCA students created pieces inspired by Strangers and their work was displayed in an exhibition held in the main cathedral titled ‘Who are we, who are they’. The exhibition ran for 4 weeks, in parallel to the Strangers exhibition.   

Find out more about this case study by contacting Hereford Cathedral Library and Archives