13th Nov - 25th Jan 2015


CRAFTS MAGAZINE January/February 2015
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About Us

January/February 2015

Tools of the tirade
Rosie Deegan

The jeweller talks tools and gender politics with Teleri Lloyd-Jones. Photography by Julian Anderson

It was Terence Conran's toolbox that got Rosie Deegan thinking. She first saw it in the pages of this very magazine. The Ultimate Cabinet Maker's Toolbox, as it is titled, was presented by furniture-maker Benchmark to one of its founders Terence Conran, to celebrate the designer's 8oth birthday. It is a beautiful thing, made from walnut and sycamore, containing chisels, planes, hammers, scrapers and screwdrivers. Now a product made by Benchmark, it's yours for an eye-watering £12,000.

Deegan was puzzled why such a thing exists - who could afford a toolbox at that price, and what might they make with it? Investigating online, she found a website offering 'Christmas Gift Ideas for a Man of Substance'with the following blurb: 'This toolbox makes you reminisce about all those days when your special man potters around the house in his faded denims fixing everything you broke.' She reads this out loud to me as we sit in her Nottingham studio, then looks up openmouthed and says: 'That is such a joke.'

Indignant and intrigued, she headed to Benchmark's showroom in Kintbury to see the real thing up close. 'There's no way anybody would use these tools because of the money you need to spend on it, so where is the value? They're no longer functional.' Deegan began to see the toolbox not as an object of agency but instead a container of symbols, an empty gesture for 'a man of substance'.
'They've been given this life and it's so sad that they're never going to do what they were made to do. If their new purpose is just to be displayed, to give you masculinity, I wouldn't want to be a tool like that. I'd much rather be a tool that was used and made beautiful things.'

So Deegan began working on her own set of tools, a series she produced in her final year at Nottingham Trent University: an intricately perforated saw, a glass hammer, some glass set squares. Each piece is a dialogue between beauty and agency, a seductive but purposely useless object.

Her belief in a tool's right-to-use is perhaps influenced by her upbringing, since her father is a harpsichord maker (the pattern cut into the saw's blade is in fact lifted from one of her father's instruments). The young Deegan grew up around workshops and tools, and as a teenager became interested in silversmithing. 'I found this woman out in a little village, ate lots of cake and gave her a couple of quid to see what they're doing for a couple of hours,' she says, in her deadpan, matter-of-fact tone.

Along the way she began making dioramas and set designs, so she headed to Nottingham Trent to study for a BA in Design for TV. She threw herself headfirst into model-making, wanting to spend the whole time getting her hands dirty, but unfortunately this was only one small part of the degree and her tutors guided her impulses onto the Decorative Arts BA as a better fit.

Her new surroundings offered her the chance to try her hand at different materials and techniques. Having settled into metalwork - and realising she might not get the chance again - Deegan began working with glass. Her final collection of Impotent Tools combines wood, metalwork and cast glass, and it was the glass that was the final piece of the puzzle, a seemingly contradictory
material for a tool, delicate and fragile.
Since graduating, Deegan has shown her collection with Mint during the London Design Festival and it's currently in Kath Libbert's selection of new graduates, Youth Movement! It's going well, but they're not paying the bills - in fact, Deegan's not even sure
they're for sale ('If I had lots of money at the moment, I would never sell them'). While Impotent Tools is where her heart is, she runs a jewellery label called Eloise Makes and is part of The Hive, the university's business support programme.

With its name taken from an old pet mouse, Eloise Makes offers simple silver jewellery inspired by animals for sale in various local shops and galleries. Deegan is pragmatic about the two distinct parts of her practice: 'That's my business, and I don't mind letting the ear hooks not be hand-made to make it a viable product that someone would buy. But I'm not going back on those,' she says adamantly, gesturing to her tools.

She spent hours cutting out the pattern from the brass sheet that became the blade of her saw. I ask if she thought about laser-cutting it instead. 'I don't like using machines. I just think it's cheating,' she says. 'This work is not going to go to that. None of it will be mass-produced... I think that process is important. The things that are important take time: they mean more, they've taken up more of
your life. Making it by hand, it's got more personality. It's not being made by something that doesn't have feelings.'

'Youth Movement! Nine New Graduates' is at Kath Libbert Jewellery, Salts Mill, Saltaire, Bradford BDi8 3!, until 25 January 2015.
www. kathlibbertjewellery. co. uk

Picture Captions:
Above: HammerHead, found objects, glass, ebony, 2013
Right: Hand Saw, found objects, glass, silver, handpierced brass, ebony, 2014


Kath Libbert Jewellery Gallery, Salts Mill, Saltaire, Bradford BD18 3LA. Tel/Fax 01274 599790. For directions see About Us
Open Monday - Friday 10am - 5.30pm. Weekends 10am - 6pm.