The roots of the Wickham Works Project run deep into the Warwick creative community. My incentive for moving to this area from Wisconsin in 1976 was the existence of a small community of seekers, led by Willem Nyland, who were attempting to infuse transformative ideas within themselves and represent them to the local community. Known as the Chardavogne Group, their activities on the community level had substantial and beneficial impact on the Town and Village of Warwick.
The charismatic Nyland had attracted hundreds of mostly young people from universities and urban centers all over the country. His vision was the formation of a not-for-profit that would sponsor a wide variety of activities operating as small businesses. These businesses would in turn be tithed a percentage of income that would go back into a general fund for support of Group efforts.
This model provided the Town and Village with a number of highly innovative businesses for the time including a craft shop, an independent bookstore, a health food store, a “fix-it” shop, a construction company that specialized in repurposing barns and other agricultural buildings into functional residences among others.
The craft shop featured handmade objects from what we called the “Chardavogne Craft Village”. Taking a cue from the neighboring hamlet of Sugar Loaf, useful and decorative items made from clay, wood, metal, cloth, paper and of course my favorite, glass were made and sold locally. This coincided with a national trend attempting to renew the value of handmade objects. Craft fairs and retail shops such as ours were beginning to spring up all over the country. The idea that one could apprentice to a craftperson or take classes in a school setting and then go out and sell what one made was becoming a way for artist/makers to earn a modest but sustainable living.
Over the last 50 years, this trend has blossomed into a worldwide movement of personalizing and adding value to useful and decorative objects. I was lucky enough to have been a part of this movement and have made my living as a craftsman/maker. Although my business grew to become a nationally recognized source for fine quality glasswork, my home-based studio here in Warwick allowed me to participate in the “open Studio” events. These events brought visitors from throughout the region to experience art and craft in the environment in which it is made and continue to be key to the support of the local creative community.
Wickham Works is an attempt to respond to what is now called the “Maker Movement” which is an effort to re-define Art, Craft and Design to include the massive expansion of technological innovation that has taken place over the last 20 years. Contemporary makers must incorporate the use of an array of tools never before possible in history. At the same time the spirit is not really all that different from the previous craft movement because it boils down to the possibility of individuals or small teams of people to design, manufacture and sell items of unique value and origination. Instead of needing large numbers of specialized departments and huge factories to produce objects of value, it is possible to “desk top” the whole process through scaling down the elements needed for production.
Due in part to the infusion of transformative ideas from the 1960’s the Town of Warwick has taken a proactive stance in relation to balancing growth and local character preservation. A creative community has been formed and has proven to have substantial and beneficial impact on the quality of life here in Warwick. This creative community will continue to grow and is ready to take even more responsibility by providing inspiration and direction for the major local cultural institutions including public schools, community college, economic and cultural development stakeholders and governing bodies.
Wickham Works is prepared to inhabit a centralized place to continue the effort of making Warwick a destination for visitors of all interests. In this day and age no place can sit back and expect to preserve value through isolation. To maintain local value we must become engaged in a continual process of creatively engaging our youth and our elders allowing collaboration in the effort to “Make Warwick” i.e. to redefine ourselves in order to preserve and sustain the qualities we cherish in a world undergoing change at an unprecedented rate. The phrase “innovation is the new preservation” comes to mind.