Meet the Maker: James O’Toole, Bushy Park Ironworks

Posted 18.06.21

Meet the Maker: James O’Toole, Bushy Park Ironworks

James O'Toole is a contemporary blacksmith/metalworker and DCCI member who works at Bushy Park Ironworks in Dublin. Created by Edward Bisgood and Colm Bagnall in 1990, Bushy Park Ironworks design, forge and fabricate in a range of metals, including steel, bronze, copper, brass, wrought iron and stainless steel for public and private architectural projects. James and his colleagues also design and make bespoke and limited editions of furniture, lighting and accessories and work in Ireland, the UK and further afield.

What's a typical day in the studio like for you?
It varies vastly from day to day. As I currently work for a company, I have my own jobs that I constantly work on - these could be restorations or new work - but to keep the 'machine' running, sometimes I will
have to stop the task at hand and either help others or make components for their jobs. This can take minutes or days, depending on the process and what's required. It's always challenging, which some people find frustrating, but it's great because almost every job will require a new tool or a new way to solve a problem. It keeps it interesting!

What do you like most about your work?
Taking something that is perceived as hard and lifeless and massaging it into being. It's also amazing to take things that are perceived as useless or irreparable and re-purposing/re-using/fixing them. It's always nice to challenge peoples' opinion of metal, people often look in awe and say 'I didn't think that could still be done'.

What do you like least about your work?
At times the work can be incredibly taxing on the body. Long hours lifting heavy red hot metal for extended periods of time. One would think, 15kgs isn't heavy for example. But hold it at arms length for 3mins at a time, for 5 heats by 40 components, the weight adds up! Thats 3 tonnes, you have held and moved over 10 hours.

What's your favourite craft item in your home?
A beautiful big 1m diameter low-sided willow basket gifted to me by a great friend at Christmas. It's now hanging over my bed. I love the colours and how it draws one's eye along it's pattern, almost like a story.

What other maker in your discipline do you most look up to?
I don't think I could pick only one, I'm lucky In that respect. I'm very friendly with lots of talented people within the blacksmiths industry whom are of constant inspiration to me. To name a few; Colm Bagnall, Rebecca Knott, Bex Simon, Jacob Edwards, Shona Johnson, Pete Hill, Brian Russel, Egor Bavykin. I could go on!

What advice would you give someone who is considering this career?
Don't think that you'll ever be done learning, you'll be learning for the entirety of your career. So learn to learn fast, and make mistakes quicker. And, if you think it's a super masculine career, you are wrong. There are some amazing female blacksmiths who are creating incredible large-scale work.

What's your favourite time of the day?
Dawn. I regularly get up for a dawn dip in the sea. It's just so intimate and quiet, makes me feel like anything is possible.

How do you switch off?
Wait, you can do that?!

How do you start your day?
Hit snooze 3 times before getting up, work gear on, make lunch, out the door and head for the studio.

What's the first thing you do when you leave the studio?
Eat! It's normally late in the evening, so I'll make dinner before anything else. Then a shower as hot as I can bear, to wash off the day and bed.

Favourite book?
Manchán Magan's 'Thirty-Two Words for Field' or 'The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse' by Charlie Mackesy.

Favourite film?
No way I could pick just one!

Favourite meal?
Sushi is always a winner.

Music when you're working?

What do you listen to?
Everything and anything. Usually stuff you can move to, lots of electro swing and jazz lately. Caravan Palace, Too Many Zooz, James Brown, Erykah Badu.

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