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The Brushmaker

Updated: Mar 27, 2021

I told a friend I had spent a morning with a brushmaker locally and she looked surprised. Yes, it's quite something that alongside our virtual screen-centred world there are people quietly keeping the old ways alive in sheds and fields in Somerset - computers nowhere in sight.

Jonny Tapp makes lovely brushes - short handled brooms, long-handled brooms, hearth brushes, desk brushes, bench brushes, crumb brushes, paint brushes - and traditional hay rakes.

He keeps a watchful eye for interesting woods - a bit of monkey puzzle from his partner's grandad, old barrel staves, a fallen pear tree, walnut, some cherry from the orchard next door.. He sits quietly in his workshop near Bruton and sands the wood, bringing out the grain. Then there are the bristles. No boar bristles now - bristles have been bred out of pigs over here. No badger hair either -it was normal killing badgers for bristles for shaving brushes in our grandparents' day, useful pocket money. But Jonny does use horsehair - and lovely auburn coconut and other plant fibres. He glues the bristles in place, slowly, meticulously. The old brushmakers would have used pine pitch resin, boiling pine sap to make the sticky, waterproof glue - a glue with roots in prehistory. Jonny's is a modern glue - the craft has to move with the times.

Pastel of Jonny sanding the ash handle of hearth brush

There are old tools everywhere - his grandfather's bill hook, his father's axe, an old rounding plane, pole lathe, shave horse. Here there are memories and history, a time-honoured pace, and old craftsmanship.

Jonny's lovely brushes are sold at Ashburton Craftsmongers, Julia Davey Ltd, Bath, and Quarters Home. These outlets all celebrate and promote traditional craft. Do visit them. Jonny's instagram is @tapponwood.

My collection of drawings and paintings of traditional Somerset craftspeople (and their artefacts) will be exhibited at the Somerset Rural Life Museum, Glastonbury, in Spring 2022. Please add your name to the mailing list for news. My instagram @katelynchartist



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