Think back to your school days. How inspiring was your work experience placement? Former Shaftesbury School student Jack Lewis’ insight into employment was career defining.
Following a week-long internship at Liberty’s Owl and Raptor Centre in Ringwood, Jack developed a passion for birds of prey and discovered a specialised form of art. He creates decorative leather hoods for falcons and, until last week, his work was on sale at Shaftesbury’s Cygnet Gallery.
“People come in and buy them just to put them on the mantelpiece. One lady bought four. She told me that she loved them because they are nice pieces of art on their own and you do not have to use them. I am happy to display them and sell them, if people like them that much,” said Jack, modestly.
A quick glance at Jack’s website reveals how his falcon hood designs vary according to the country of origin. “There are Anglo-Indian hoods which are used in Pakistan. Arab hoods are used in the Middle East and have a different appearance, because they are pulled together at the back in a different way. There’s no major difference in style, though.”
Although falcon hoods are decorative they have a function and purpose. “It’s mainly to stop the birds getting upset,” said Jack. “Before a race, they put blinkers on horses to calm them. Hoods for falcons follow the same kind of principal. Falcons are quite energetic and want to fly. If they see something they want they get excited. If you put a hood on them it stops them getting too worked up.”
Jack takes commissions for bespoke hood designs. “I am making hoods for a couple who run a business called Albion Falconry. They’re interested in the historical side of falconry and they do shows in full period costumes. The last time I saw them they were dressed in Victorian style. They had another event in the time of the Civil War and were dressed in clothing from that era. They have commissioned what is called a hammerhead. Those hoods were used more in Tudor times. They look like a jesters hat, with a point on each side where the eyes would be. I need to finish that now. It’s been an interesting project,” said Jack.
Jack is unsure how many artists are making decorative falconry hoods around the country but there are more falconers than you might have thought. “The last recorded number of birdkeepers was 26,000,” Jack explained.
As I met Jack, he was packing up his hood display in the Swan’s Yard Gallery into a small cardboard box. Jack is moving his hood sales online to his website and Facebook page. He’ll still attend specialist shows and game fairs, but it will be easier for Jack to manage his hood crafting through online orders and sales.
He’s doing it in his spare time. During the working day, Jack is still being creative with leather. A company that makes handbags and belts employs him. He says his day job isn’t as draining as hood making. “It’s quite nice because it is bigger stitching than with hoods. The hood stitch marker that I use is eleven stitches per inch. It’s quite intricate and detailed. I have to sit for a long time and I get quite a bit of backache. The nice thing about the handbags is that the stitches are bigger,” he said.
Jack is passionate about hood making and the tradition surrounding this historic practice. “Obviously hoods, hood making and falconry go right back to King Henry VIII’s time, when we had kings and queens who would all fly birds,” he explained. And falconry has a much older Shaftesbury connection. “King Alfred used to fly falcons and birds,” Jack added.
In fact Falconry was once such an important part of everyday British life, we use many terms relating to the practice, often without realising it. “If you have been told that you have been ‘hoodwinked’, ‘kept in the dark’ or someone has said ‘what you can’t see can’t hurt you’, then all of the phrases come from falconry,” explained Jack. “If somebody says that they are going down the pub to ‘booze’ that comes from bowsing, where birds bathe and drink. It’s now been corrupted into boozing.”
Some falconry practices can be traced back through the centuries. “A lot of people question why we wear a glove on the left arm. It is because if you were riding a horse when you were hunting you could control the reins better. Your left hand would have worn a glove with the falcon on it or the hawk that you were using for hunting. You do get right-handed gloves, because some people are left-handed and they cannot physically tie a knot with their right hand,” said Jack.
Falconry seems to be popular within the Arab world. You might assume that the practice was introduced into the UK from the Middle East, perhaps following the crusades. But the association with King Alfred clearly predates that. “The first record of falconry was around 4,000 years ago in Turkey. I’m not saying that is where it originated. The Arab side of it is quite new, becoming more popular in the last decade or so. They are interested in peregrines. The last female I had heard of fetched £15,000,” said Jack.
Jack’s own bird is a lanner falcon, called Thanos. “It’s Greek for immortal warrior,” he said. “It is also because I am a massive Marvel Comics fan and that is a main villain from the last Avengers film, which came out in April, I have had him for three years. He can live until he is 20, which means he is quite a commitment but that is fine with me. I love him to bits.”
The rules regarding falcon ownership are not as strict as you may imagine and Jack says many handlers would like tighter regulation. “A lot of us falconers are now trying to campaign for more licensing. You need to have an ‘A10’ to show that any bird that is native to Europe and the UK has been bred legally and in captivity,” he said. “Birds from North America are a problem. You can pick up a Harris hawk or a bald eagle with no paperwork. I could buy one tomorrow and keep it in my back garden. You do find people who are doing that now and there are more birds dying from illnesses. People can mistreat them, which is a shame because it gives us who treat them properly a bad name. If you handle the bird the way you would want to be treated, respect it and feed it well, then your bird will respect you,” Jack said.
It’s clear that Jack has a special connection with Thanos. “People say that you do not get a bond with a bird. I find that my falcon has a bond with me.”
You can buy Jack’s hoods online at PalladwrHoods.wixsite.com/falconry.
Jack’s story provides the most compelling testimonial for schools offering workplace experience. So many people have discovered his beautiful art and Jack has found his vocation and an outlet for his creative talents, thanks to Shaftesbury School’s placements.