This blog is in memory of one of my very favourite tutors, Richard Harrison, of the Wood Workshop & Art By Camera, near Penrith in the Lake District. Richard is sadly no longer with us, but thanks to the people Richard worked with and lived alongside, his woodwork & photography courses are still running (see links below) and Richard’s art and craft legacy is in safe hands. Rest in peace to a dear man and a highly skilled craftsman.
Richard joined our CraftCourses site right back in the beginning in 2012 when we were a fledgling business, and I was working at our kitchen table, phoning craftspeople across the UK to see who was interested. Richard was, and we built up a long-standing and enjoyable phone relationship that spanned ten years. I admire him hugely and will miss him; talking to Sue and Mark over these last few weeks of writing this piece has inspired me even more into the life and times of this man.
Mark Farrelly, Richard’s protégé in the wood workshop and a highly skilled craftsman in his own right, and Sue Kane, Richard’s long-term friend and partner in the Art by Camera photography business, shared with me their cherished memories of Richard.
The funeral is planned for June 8th at 2 pm at Eden Valley Crematorium. Family flowers only please, but if desired, donations in memory of Richard for the Alzheimer’s Society may be left at the service or can be sent c/o Walkers Funeral Directors, Tynefield House, Penrith, CA11 8HY. Alternatively, please donate online to The Alzheimer’s Society here.
Words by Mark Farrelly and Sue Kane. Mark goes first.
How would you describe Richard?
Richard was the most down to earth guy you could meet. He didn’t suffer fools and what you saw is what you got. He wanted everything done perfectly. There was no such thing as ‘that’ll do’ especially with woodwork; everything was done to best of your ability.
For example, if you were making a chest of drawers that was going to go against a wall, the back would be shown the same attention and level of detail as the front, even though that would never be seen. Richard’s Dad was a carpenter who was very good at what he did. Richard wanted to emulate that.
“My aim is never to upstage the wood, make pieces that show it off to its best.” (Richard Harrison)
How do you think Richard would like to be remembered?
I think he’d like to be remembered as a great cabinet maker and a nice guy, and he will be, with his pieces in homes all over the country, which will last generations.
What are the things that were most important to Richard?
“Paring prices to the bone and sacrificing quality was not for me. I chose the best material and took however long it was needed to craft high quality pieces. No shortcuts, no compromises.” Richard Harrison
His car: he had a Landrover Defender 110 converted into a camper by Dormobile, which he absolutely loved. Richard and I fitted out the inside twice actually; the first time we fitted it out with real wood, as cabinet makers will in our wisdom! In a car though, you get such extremes of temperature that it lasted about 6 months before it warped and twisted, and we had to start again with special campervan plywood.
The wood workshop was very important to him. It’s just outside of Penrith and there are lovely views out towards Helvelyn (the second highest mountain in England) on a clear day. It can be a blessing and a curse as on a nice day, you don’t want to go back to work after your break!
Can you tell us a little about Richard’s background?
Richard was born in Leicester and went into the navy as a young man, and he soon met his wife, Margaret. Margaret was from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides and this is where Richard built them their own home, also taking on three stepchildren who he raised as his own. They lived on the island for a while before moving to the mainland where they bought an old estate car and spent 3 months driving around the coast of England staying in different places. Originally, they thought they might settle in Wales (yay!) but finally decided on the Lake District and settled on Penrith (top choice).
Richard’s woodworking story started at home in Cumbria where he worked evenings and weekends making furniture whilst working full-time as a welding supplies salesman.
He wanted to be a full-time cabinet maker however and the shed at the bottom of the garden probably wasn’t good enough. He got our present workshop in Penrith 20 years ago and spent the best part of those 20 years evolving the workshop and getting it to where it is today. Workshops do evolve you know.
You start off with something simple and you start with certain machinery and tooling, then your great big band saw dies and you must replace it but your new one won’t fit the old space. So, you start moving things around. When he started, he had three or four big machines and now we have ten. They all get crammed in somehow!
Have you got more space now then?
What else meant a lot to Richard?
Ash, Richard’s dog who sadly passed away six years ago. He was a beautiful Belgian Shepherd. Once Richard’s wife Margaret died, Ash was his companion and Richard kept all of Ash’s leads and collars after he died.
How did you meet Richard?
He taught me cabinetmaking in 2006; I met him as a student. He’d been doing courses for maybe a year at that point, and I came on one of the courses and basically told him how much I’d enjoyed it and asked if I could come and do an apprenticeship with him. I spent two days a week for two years working with him before I got to the point where I was comfortable to charge people for my work. Then I joined Richard full time.
I think what swayed it was that I approached him and asked the question! He admired the courage of asking for what you wanted; to knock on the door and ask the question. He saw something of himself in that.
A few years later, Jay joined us too following a course that she thoroughly enjoyed and also learned from Richard going on to develop a business of their own and running footstool-making courses.
What did Richard do in his spare time that we might not be aware of?
Richard was a home body and spent a lot of time on YouTube where he found inspiration and teaching to advance his own skills and knowledge.
Richard loved photography, which he did with Sue Kane and the Art By Camera business. He was very happy with how he was and didn’t need much else.
He was also a great lover of classical music, which he enjoyed watching on YouTube and occasionally at concerts.
How do you think he positively influenced others?
Richard just really enjoyed passing on his woodwork knowledge. If he could see someone was taking it on board and going to pursue it, he would encourage, push and take the time to teach you to do your utmost.
I was absolutely blown away by the experience. The tuition was excellent from start to finish. Richard and Mark were both so knowledgeable and patient. They both have a gift for teaching and sharing their craft. Recent review from a student on Richard’s woodwork course
Now we talk to Sue, Richard’s long-term friend and partner in the Art By Camera photography business.
Richard was someone who was able to make connections with people very easily and establish a rapport. He liked to talk to someone face to face or on the phone ( as to filling in forms... not his speciality!!!).
"We laugh at this point as I can vouch for that. Richard often rang me up in the early years of the CraftCourses website to point out where I had gone wrong, all in a very good natured and humourous way. He loved to spot something I had not thought of and be my 'craftsman on the ground'. As someone who had set up craft businesses himself, he was supportive of my fledgeling endeavour and one of our very first Makers, with me from the get-go in 2011." Kate Dewmartin
He was very kind; you only ever had to say, ‘so and so is in trouble’ and Richard would help. Richard’s wife Margaret had Alzheimer’s during her later years, which were, as you would expect a struggle for him. When she finally went into care, he visited her 6 days out of 7. It was the same with his parents; as soon as Margaret died, he moved his elderly parents up from Leicester into a care home and visited them nearly every day until they died.
He moved with the times and his main skill in woodworking was his precision. It was a real high point of Richard’s; something he always wanted to instil into the students. The right rulers, right pencils, they learn how to do a job accurately and so when it all comes together it fits like a glove.
As both business partners and friends, Sue saw Richard twice a week every week at least, and many times in between. They were like family and were very close. Alongside Richard, Sue helped nurse Margaret during her Alzheimer’s.
We met in 1994 at a craft group, Northern Fells Craftsmen, a committee of 6 who always exhibited and invited others to exhibit with them. At that time, I was a jeweller and was invited to exhibit with them at a group craft show. Richard was treasurer and I soon ended up as secretary (maybe just because I was the only person who had a laptop).
In 2002, what with foot and mouth and ageing members, the group disbanded, but Richard and I continued to collaborate and work together. We decided to buy a large marquee and we used it to travel to craft shows and exhibit and sell jewellery and cabinetry. Over time, the walls became the gallery space for our shared love, photography.
Richard’s wife and Sue’s husband joined them on these trips, and everyone pitched in to help. By 2008, they were also having canal holidays together, something they have done every year since.
We first took a photography studio in 2014, exactly and conveniently adjacent to the cabinetry business. When that next door unit became available, Richard phoned me with great excitement, and we snapped it up! Soon after, we started teaching photography with groups of up to 4 but mainly one-to-one photography days with a student and their camera. We covered portraiture, family groups, products, valuables, and landscapes – obviously being where we are in the lakes it’s very scenic.
“Sue and Richard are very easy to get on with and are very knowledgeable about the subject. I felt very comfortable learning from them both.” Review from a recent student of Sue and Richard’s photography course.
We were helping people to understand the camera, so that they didn’t spend thousands on one and then carry on shooting on auto…. you’d be surprised how many folks do this!