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Artisanal Assets: Why Top Collectors Are Investing in Craft

A new generation of collectors is driving up demand for artisanal craft—two contemporary art experts tell us more about the trend and share their tips for curating a collection

According to the British Crafts Council, 73 percent of adults purchased a work of artisanal craft such as handmade jewelry, blown glass, or ceramics last year, compared to just 17 percent in 2006. And the trend includes a significant shift towards younger consumers, with 32 percent of buyers aged under 35.

Marta De Roia, a specialist in design at Christie’s in London, isn’t surprised at the increased interest in what she defines as “the art of making by hand.” In fact, she says, the same trend is evident in North America, East Asia, and Europe. Joakim Borda-Pedreira, director of RAM Galleri, Oslo—which specializes in contemporary art, craft, and design—agrees. “We’re experiencing a craft renaissance where old techniques and styles are being rediscovered and updated,” he says.

But what’s driving this interest in artisanal craft? “In a society that mostly offers standardized products, young consumers are collecting works in a way that leans more and more towards quality, unicity, and supporting young artists. And they are expressing their individuality through their buying choices,” De Roia explains.

A display of artisanal craft ceramics by artist Erika Stöckel
Erika Stöckel, a young ceramic artist, is known for the physicality of her works, which often explore the structures behind oppressed bodies—particularly those of the indigenous Sami community of which she is a part. Image: Mattias Lindbäck

For Borda-Pedreira, the increase in collecting craft points to a wider interest in sustainability. “Young people today are very concerned with the waste of resources and the environmental consequences of industrial mass production,” he says. “A craft piece signals care for the earth, respect for the humans that produce our things, and an aesthetic sensibility.”

And if you’re considering starting a collection, both De Roia and Borda-Pedreira are unequivocal in their advice. “Most important, I would say, is to buy artisanal pieces that speak to you and that you appreciate, regardless of craft-market trends,” says De Roia. Borda-Pedreira echoes her view, “My advice to aspiring collectors is to always buy with the heart because craft should be part of your everyday life.”

How to Begin a Collection

Borda-Pedreira suggests silver and ceramics as good starting points for collections. “You can buy a unique corpus work by a silversmith, a real piece of art, for the price of a cream jug at Georg Jensen,” he says. “And it’s difficult to go wrong with ceramic, as long as you buy quality.”

Classical ceramic urns by ceramic artist Magdalene Odundo
Kenyan-born British studio potter Magdalene Odundo is a world-renowned ceramic artist, whose simple yet powerful pieces reference Greek, Chinese, Aztec, and African forms. Image: Alamy

For anyone interested in ceramics, De Roia believes there’s a great opportunity to buy from emerging artists. “Many hugely talented ceramists have not yet achieved the recognition they deserve, so I don’t necessarily think that to begin a great ceramics collection you need to start with the most established names.”

Investing in Ceramics

Once you’ve identified a ceramist whose work you like, De Roia advises finding out more. “It’s important to learn about the artist, their desire to create, their message, and their story to ensure that it resonates with you. The only collection that is right for you is one you enjoy and appreciate,” she says.

Both De Roia and Borda-Pedreira report that onward selling of craft art, including ceramics, is rare. “If your object brings you profit from reselling after some time, that is an added bonus,” De Roia says. “The scarcity of some works drives prices up, but these rises are also because many of these much-loved works are simply not being let go by those fortunate enough to have them.”

Borda-Pedreira agrees: “My experience is that craft collectors become very attached to their objects and rarely do we see contemporary craft art on the secondary market. The aesthetic value is greater than the economic value to the collector.”

A ceramic work by Alison Britton
Leading British ceramic artist Alison Britton’s distinctive sculptural works have challenged the notion of ceramics and functional pottery within the art world. Image: Philip Sayer, courtesy of Marsden Woo, London

Artists to Watch Out For

For those already collecting ceramic art, De Roia recommends “expanding your collection to include a more diverse variety of works.” To this end, Borda-Pedreira advocates considering older female artisans in their sixties and seventies.

“Artists such as these are very undervalued. For instance, in the U.K., Alison Britton, a leading ceramic artist represented in all major museums, is still very reasonably priced. I would also suggest Tulla Elieson, a Norwegian ceramist who is a true pioneer. We showed her at the Collect Art Fair this year and have placed several of her works in museums recently,” he says.

Borda-Pedreira also recommends the work of Astrid Sleire, a professor at the art academy in Bergen, Norway, and a hugely influential force for a generation of young artists—”she’s a legend already,” he says. Finally, he mentions up-and-coming ceramic artist Erika Stöckel, who is part of the arctic indigenous Sami community, an identity that she explores in her work.

When considering her favorite works, De Roia points to Isamu Noguchi. “His ceramics speak to the subconscious and seem to capture the essence of things,” she says. She also praises Magdalene Odundo, describing her work as “inspiring,” and Jennifer Lee, a ceramist whose work, she says, is flawless. “Everything about her craft is perfectly harmonious, in a very captivating way.”

Banner image: Ceramic pots by Scottish artist Jennifer Lee. Image: Michael Harvey