The Papered Parlour
4 March 2014
Written by Will Lambeth
Edited by Zach Dundas
In 2007, art-school grads Claire Heafford and Louise Hall were doing jobs that spoke to their passions for performance, comedy, and theatre: Claire worked for Britain's leading fringe theatre, and Louise helped run the front-of-house for one of London's top comedy venues. Yet they hungered for an opportunity to set up their own artistic practices and begin making work. They found the studio complexes they knew of "a bit intimidating" (as Claire puts it) and wanted to work a creative atmosphere that was collaborative.
So they decided to start their own studio in the South London district of Clapham, a thriving neighborhood that is nonetheless somewhat removed from the heart of the UK capital's creative scene.
"Whilst I was at art college, I had become very disillusioned about a kind of artistic practice that I saw as self referential," Claire explains. "I was interested in the idea that art should be a kind of a mirror, held up to society to ask the question: do we like what we see? It seemed to me that there was no point in asking that question to communities of other artists. The question should be directed at non-artists. So I didn't want to set up a space in East London, which houses the world's largest community of artists. I wanted to set up a space where we would begin a dialogue with a community who had not yet been converted by creativity."
Six years later, The Papered Parlour is thriving: the intimate studio provides workspace to a diverse array of local artists. The real revelation has been the space's public craft classes; Londoners flock by the hundreds, learning directly from artists how to smith jewelry, print wallpaper, or handcraft high heels.
With accolades in the national press, prize money from a nationwide competition, and a book on the way, Claire and Louise may just have happened on a whole new system for artistic self-sufficiency - and uncovered their own knack for community-building in the process.
The classes were borne of recession-era necessity, Heafford says. "Traditionally, artists have always supplemented their income through teaching, but this hasn't really been an option for younger artists." So in order to provide an additional income stream, the girls established a program of workshops, and began hiring the space out for bachelorette parties and other private events.
The workshops themselves adopt a teaching style that values the design and creativity rather than traditional craft. Even highly technical projects are opportunities to be social and self-expressive, with tea, snacks, and sketching sessions that lead each participant to a unique final product. A Guardian correspondent raved about the Parlour's "camaraderie and supportiveness" (as well as "a huge cream cake").
The Papered Parlour is now a fascinating hybrid of different modes of working: professional artists and craftspeople rent workspaces for either short-term or permanent stays, forming a collegial community ("a family who get along," as Claire puts it). Around this core orbit public classes and other collaborations that extend into and beyond the professional creative sphere, bringing people from many walks of life into the space.
"Our creative community is a work in progress," Claire says. "I want to develop strong roots before we grow tall."
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