The humble brush has been given a make-over by former musician Terry Cullen. Architect Roisin Murphy is swept off her feet.
It was when Terry Cullen was wiping up after his daughter’s experiments with slime (take note, fellow travellers) that, in frustration, he created a small wooden brush designed to get the last traces off his table and chairs.
Terry – former band member of Ten Speed Racers, and more recently ‘a maker’ –had already made a name for his beautiful wooden chopping boards, slabs of perfect wood in irregular shapes, or inlaid with tiny sections of contrasting timber under his Two Wooden Horses label.
Originally Terry started out at art school in London, got drawn into music and played with 90s bands like Roller Skate Skinny, as well as working on building sites and with horses. “I had to do all those things to figure out what’s not for me,” he says.
He began to work with wood to make props for his wife Jo Murphy, a well-known food and fashion photographer. And over the last 10 years or so his wooden chopping boards have become collectibles.
But it’s the quirky ‘slime’ brush that has had people queueing up to buy from as far afield as Copenhagen and America. Not only are they cute, but they are perfect for swooshing away crumbs.
Here in Ireland we have a history of brush making, though the once famous Dublin Varian brushes from Talbot Street now import their stock and have moved to Crumlin. When the last of the Varian family died, so did their Irish-made brushes. Manager Iris Skelly says, ‘You can’t make brushes for what it costs to buy them‘.
Varian is now owned by Dosco, a Cork family brand dating back to 1884 that still sells the twig broom and distinctive garden and yard brushes. Many of them are manufactured in Ireland. You’ll learn a lot about us Irish and our agricultural heritage from their range – yard brushes, grooming brushes, churn brushes, non-stock bulk tank brushes. Dairy herds and the equine and farming industries’ demands are what drive the stock on their list.
But brushes aren’t just making a clean sweep in Ireland. Recently a long handled broom went on sale in New York for US$800. It’s by sculptor Erin Rouse, whose love of household objects has led to her making old-fashioned sweeping brushes, the kind fashioned out of long, dried, coarse seagrasses or twigs, and woven, or knotted on top, to a long wooden handle. The sort of brush your granny might have had, say, for sweeping away chickens, sleeping dogs or errant children.
To me a yard or twig broom looks as out of place – and time – as a quill.
But just as bamboo toothbrushes and coconut scrubbers are now on show in the most eco-conscious homes, the humble brush has come out of the closet.
As for Terry Cullen and his table brushes some of the most lovely ones are made of bog oak which is hard to come by and difficult to work with. They are also hugely in demand. Prices are likely to start to match those of Erin Rouse’s twig brooms. For Terry, it’s not the money that has driven his work, it’s the satisfaction. He says, “It’s just like the ‘ah’ you get when you play music.”
They say a new broom sweeps clean but, at this exact design moment, it’s all about the old-style ones.
Terry Cullen’s table brushes, from €45; twowoodenhorses.com