Arts and craft on the towpath

February 2017 - By Peter Underwood

The Floater takes a look at canal traders – people creating businesses on our canals and rivers. Their numbers are increasing almost daily and the chances are you will see a floating market or a sole trader on the canal at most times of the year. As Peter Underwood reports, our latest traders bring both art and craft to the towpath.

The canals seem to attract those with an artistic eye and people who have an affinity with nature and Morgan and Sue and Sue have created businesses based on both on board their purpose built boat Sunbeam.

I first met them at the Birmingham Floating Christmas market where their photography and hand-crafted wooden object were getting lots of attention.

Morgan, 48, is the photographer and Sue, 50, is the artist in wood.

Morgan made a major career change to take to the water. She said: “After getting together with Sue three years ago, and reaching a major turning point in my career; I was a Faculty Leader in a Sixth Form College, where the upward progression route into even more management and far less teaching didn't appeal, I decided to give that life up for a life on the water and creative freedom.”
Sue was going back to an earlier life: “I lived on boats in Glasson Dock, in Lancashire, over 20 years ago, and then when I moved to Birmingham five years ago I needed somewhere to live and the canals seemed like home again.

“I bought a project boat and did that up, before selling it to fund my half of Sunbeam's build.”

For Morgan the decision to trade was an outlet for creativity: “Having taught creative production - photography, film, animation – in Higher and Further Education for over 20 years I wanted to get back to the creative processes that had drawn me into teaching in the first place.

“The opportunity to use this as a means to facilitate travelling and living is a joy.”

For Sue, boat trading was an extension of her land activities: “After working with wood for over twenty years, and trading on the land making a range of products from locally-sourced wood, trading off the boat I am living on fulfils an ambition I have had since my early boating days to travel the waterways.”

Morgan says: “I have always taken photographs - I had my first SLR when I was 7 - and so making and selling images seemed like the natural thing to do.

“I have always also enjoyed upcycling, so the notebooks and other products I have started to make are just a progression from that love.”

And the canals have added an historical perspective to Sue's woodworking: “Having worked with mainly green wood using traditional methods for the last twenty years I have now added reclaimed Lockwood to my range of products to tie my work in to my life on the cut.

They say everything is made on the boat - they designed incorporate work spaces for both of them.
They have been trading a year. “We've only had Sunbeam 18 months and we've been fitting her out ourselves,” Sue explained.

“I've been trading as Against The Grain for twenty years, selling my wares at country fairs and craft fairs in the Lake District and more recently in Birmingham. We've had our Trading Licence for Sunbeam for a year now.

And it is now becoming a living for Morgan as trade picks up, Not that it isn't sometimes necessary to bolster the income as Sue explained: “We both do things to supplement our income from time to time. Morgan does private tuition (online and in person). I've always done a range of things over the years: gardening; hedge laying; dry-stone walling; and pyrotechnics.”

So far they've done a couple of floating markets which have been successful and very enjoyable. “As we've been doing the boat up ourselves from a lined shell these last 18 months, our continuous cruising trading adventures start in earnest from this April,” explained Morgan.

“We can't wait, and are already booked into a couple of events. We plan to cruise and trade as we go along, taking advice from other traders as we go.

“We are starting from Birmingham, and heading up to the north west first. From there we have no plans, but will go wherever we fancy. We plan to cover as much of the 2000 miles of navigable waterways as possible.

And it won't stop there. Morgan says: “I definitely plan to grow my range of products. I'm exploring new lines all the time.”
Sue also plans to develop: “ I'm always inspired by the wood that I find along our journeys, and that's how new products develop.”

The couple live aboard and have a mooring whilst they finish their fit out. They are CC-ing from April.
As usual I asked what would they change if they ruled the waterways?

“It would be great for there to be more consistent dredging; for more moorings to be developed and available; and for water levels to be maintained along more and more navigable lengths so that we could all float freely around the system.”

If wood is your thing you can see more of Sue's work and contact her here:

Facebook: @againsthegrainwoodart



And if Photography is what turns you on here are Morgan's details;

Facebook: @morganjayneonnarrowboatSunbeam


Photos: (1st) Sue working in the cratch, trading at this December's RCTA Birmingham Floating Market , (2nd) Morgan trading at the Christmas Floating Market in Birmingham, (3rd) An example of some recent spoons carved by Sue, (4th) Sue carving spoons on the stern deck, (5th) Morgan, with Minnie, on Sunbeam.

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