Barry Lipton: Founder’s Interview

In 2015, the SCC is celebrating its 40th anniversary. In 1975, fifty-seven Saskatchewan artisans organized themselves into a determined force with a single voice and a common purpose. That purpose was to promote and raise the profile of Saskatchewan artisans, improve the quality of work produced, and facilitate communication among the membership. Each of these people donated just $5 to this cause and the Saskatchewan Craft Council was born. You can read more about our history here.

Our board members and staff have come together to conduct interviews with as many of these founding members as we can, in celebration of this milestone. We are interested in these founders’ thoughts around why we came into being and their insights for the future.

Every two weeks, we will feature the interview one of these founding members. This week’s feature:

Barry Lipton

Barry Lipton is originally from Regina, but now lives on Toronto Island in Ontario. Barry has a Fine Arts Degree from the University of Saskatchewan Regina Campus, with a major in Theatre. During his university years, Berry took printmaking with Jack Sures, who was teaching his very first class at the time. When the SCC was founded, Barry’s craft medium of choice was weaving. He then studied dying with Kate Waterhouse, furthered his interest in Japanese dying and worked on developing his own techniques.

What compelled you to throw your $5 and yourself into creating a new organization dedicated to supporting craft?

The Battleford Craft Festival [now the Saskatchewan Handcraft Festival] had been running for a couple of years and there was a need for peer reviewed jurying. The first year of the SCC was an amazing rollercoaster ride. We had a start up grant from the Saskatchewan Arts Board and co-ordinator Gary Dufour spent most of his time looking for next year’s funding. Three government departments were contributing; the Arts Board, Lotteries, and Industry and Commerce. Three applications asking for the same information in different ways may have suited their needs, but ate up time and resources from the Craft Council.

Four people resigned from the board in January of 1976; it was a dark time and left us wondering if the organization could survive. There was no co-ordinator or office; the budget had shrunk from $32,000 to $7,500. The Craft Factor [the SCC newsletter] was the communication vehicle that connected the membership at the time and then the editor resigned. For a period of about 6 months, I was chair of the board and editor of the Craft Factor. I lived 20 miles north of Moose Jaw in a church without plumbing, a phone, or a typewriter. Editing and government letter writing was done in long hand. Because I had no car, I hitchhiked into Regina to meet an international delegation one day, and they wanted to see the offices after their meeting. The government liaison was not impressed when I admitted the office consisted of a desk under my back stairs at home.

What are you most proud of over the last 40 years?

Keeping it together through the rough time. The organization might have floundered, but at the next election we got more members on board and I kept pushing the organizational rock uphill to get it on a stronger footing. When [SCC staff member] Sydney Luther contacted me, I was amazed to hear of the number of full and part time people now working for the Craft Council.

What has disappointed you?

I moved away and have not kept track of the Craft Council’s doings.

What are your hopes for the future?

That support for artists becomes a higher priority and that the contribution they make to life be valued higher than marketability. Retired people turning to art may help raise awareness of its importance to everyone’s quality of life.

What are you doing to celebrate Craft Year 2015 and our 40th anniversary?

I can’t believe it’s been 40 years. I don’t have a particular project, but have spent the last 10 years rebuilding my neo-craftsmen house on Toronto Island. There were many of these heritage homes in Regina and Saskatoon that I loved, so have fulfilled a dream in rebuilding this one. I continue to use my organizational skills and background in theatre, to support projects I am interested in.

Any other thoughts?

We had great government relations in those days. There was less security; if you wanted to talk to the cultural minister, you waited outside his office at 8 am and you chatted with him for the 5 minutes you needed. I remember a $60 investment we made in getting the Saskatchewan lapel pin recast in silver by Winston Quan for Premier Alan Blakeney to gift the other Premiers when there was a First Minister’s conference in Saskatchewan. Premier Blakeney was so pleased.

Photo from the August 1978 issue of The Craft Factor.