Withy Lore

From common sight to critically endangered craft

Until the 1960’s and 1970’s willow crab/lobster pots, known locally as withy pots, were a common sight around the South West coastline. Crafted with great skill over the winter months and cast into the sea with the hope of a good catch, these pots were a lifeline to fishermen and their families for generations. With the introduction of plastic pots, withy pot making rapidly declined and today few pot makers remain. Pot styles/techniques vary from place to place, person to person, like a signature. In turn these signatures reveal stories about place and community. As pots generally lasted 1 season, and most makers didn’t document their process, many designs have already been lost. Withy pot making is now  classified as ‘critically endangered’ on the Red List of Endangered Crafts, meaning it is at serious risk of no longer being practised in the UK. There is therefore an urgency to document and support this fascinating craft and its heritage, that is deeply connected to our relationship with the natural world.

Withy Lore- what we’ll be doing…

Opportunities for withy pot makers to share, with both us and each other, will enable us to capture stories, knowledge and reflections about this unique craft. Material collected will be shared through film, illustration, installation, audio, photography and storytelling, culminating in an exhibition at the Royal Cornwall Museum from 10th March – 22nd June 2025.

Oral Histories and Films

Over 2024 Withy Lore will spend time with those involved in the withy pot craft, recording oral histories and documenting the craft through the creation of a series of short films. We will also be exploring archive photographs and artefacts and presenting extracts from oral histories within the exhibition. The recordings will be archived in full at Kresen Kernow, ensuring this craft is well documented for future generations to learn from.

Illustrations and Jewellery

Withy Lore will be delivered in partnership with artist and jeweller Anna Pope, who has researched this craft extensively through her previous project Jewelwithy. As part of the project Anna will produce a series of illustrations that share pot designs from around the South West, highlighting key differences and similarities between withy pots. The exhibition at the Royal Cornwall Museum will also enable Anna to showcase her beautifully crafted story about the withy pot craft, illustrated with prints and etched brooches.

Community Installation

Inspired by an archive photograph in which clusters of withy pots appear like barnacles, Withy Lore will work with withy pot makers to produce a large-scale installation. This will showcase different pot styles and represent the evolution of the pot. During the exhibition this will also provide opportunities for participants of all ages to contribute through simple weaving techniques.

Engaging Younger Generations

It’s important to us to engage people of all ages, so later this year we’ll be going into Marazion Primary school to deliver a workshop with year 6 children, as well as supporting students from Cornwall College in Camborne to make a series of films with Withy Pot Makers. These intergenerational sessions will immerse young people in a world of withy pots, providing opportunities for learning and creativity. The resulting creative outputs will become part of the Withy Lore exhibition at the Royal Cornwall Museum in 2025.

Withy Lore Exhibition

The Royal Cornwall Museum 10th March – 22nd June 2025.
Talks, demonstrations, community events, intergenerational workshops and screenings will run alongside the Withy Lore exhibition, engaging people of all ages with this fascinating craft. Through a narrative, sensory rich approach to interpretation we hope to make the exhibition accessible and engaging to a wide audience.

Future

Collaboration and community is always at the heart of our projects so over the course of this year we will be listening and learning from those we meet. This will help us shape the future of the project.

Photos

Funders & Links

This project has been made possible with thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, FEAST Cornwall, Cornwall Community Foundation, the St.Aubyn Foundation and the Fishmongers Company.