TOAST Magazine

Geoffrey Fisher | Working with Wood

STYLE & STORIES

Geoffrey Fisher has always worked with wood. It is a material that speaks to him, that he feels intrinsically connected to and this is obvious from the objects he creates. Whether it be his functional table brushes, iconic trooks (mix tree with hook), toast tongs, catapults or bee hotels, all display an appreciation for, and understanding of, the forms of nature.

When we meet, sun is streaming through his workshop windows and music is playing, loudly. “It’s Nora Fischer”, he says cheerfully, turning the volume down a little, “she reinterprets 17th century lyrics. I love it!”

It seems apt that Fisher should enjoy this amalgamation of the old with the new, for though his creations are contemporary in look and feel, his own practice is very much linked to traditional craft and technique. 

Like woodworkers of the past, he visits local woodlands himself, gathering and foraging his own materials. He’ll know from just looking at a branch what it might be used for.

When I ask how he came to create in this way, Fisher replies “it was entirely by accident. A lilac tree fell down in the garden one night and I felt like I needed to preserve some part of it. The idea came to me that I could make some hooks, because they were already there, in the shape of the branches.”

Before the lilac tree, Fisher’s process began with a preconceived design, which he would then shape the wood to fit. After, nature determined that design. “It changed my way of working completely”, he says. 

Examine any of Fisher’s objects and you’ll see how the inherent characteristics of that particular piece of wood are celebrated – the knobbly texture of the bark providing grip, the gentle slope of a branch becoming a comfortable curve in the handle of a brush.

Following a quick tour of the meticulous workshop – “if you want to run a good business, I’ve found it helps to be tidy!” – Fisher takes us up to the small coppiced wood, near to his home in High Wycombe. 

“See this”, he points to a thin sapling beech tree, “it’s the perfect diameter for the bee hotels.” With the dexterity of a much-practised woodsman he pulls out his hand saw – he only ever uses a hand saw in the woods, so as not to disturb the animals – and cuts down the tree.

Fisher explains that this is a coppiced wood – one in which young saplings need to be regularly cut down in order to stop them obstructing the surface of the woodland floor and preventing light from reaching wild flowers. It’s a leftover from all the furniture manufacturing that took place in the area. 

Sadly, today only a few furniture makers remain and many of the beech woods are left uncared for. Fisher has an arrangement with the council that he will see to this particular woodland and he visits every couple of days. “It’s a nice thing, being amongst trees. It’s always peaceful and full of wildlife.”

Back at the workshop, with its beautiful views stretching out to the hills, Fisher talks about his past. It’s difficult to imagine Fisher creating anything else – as his current works seems to suit him so perfectly – but he began, he shows us, by creating boxed constructions which, painted a chalky white, capture something of a pin ball machine.

“After studying at Hornsey College of Art, I became part of the art scene in the East End”, he smiles. “We were some of the first artists to move there, onto Phipp Street. We shared this huge studio and had massive parties. Once the Sex Pistols came, though I didn’t recognise them.”

He describes the area’s strange mix of industrial workers and young artists and how, after several years working for other people, including Ivor Abrahams RA, he became a bit jaded by it all. “My girlfriend and I just decided to leave and move to Greece. We were searching for a different life.” 

Fisher was in Greece for ten years, working as a product designer, and speaks wistfully about his time there. “For several years, I was living near the Albanian border. I went fully native. Nobody spoke English. There was a single Frenchman and me; we were known as ‘the foreigners’.”

It was a family tragedy that brought him back to England and, since then, he has worked variously as an art teacher and set maker at Pinewood. It is only more recently that he has managed to turn his craft into a full-time, viable business.

While life in his workshop runs at a calm, methodical pace, it is not, Fisher assures me, uneventful. Last year, while gathering wood near to Chequers, he was accosted by six anti-terrorist police. “They were on me in a matter of moments” he says, “all very polite but equipped with every sort of weapon imaginable!” Fisher goes on to explain that when asked for some form of identification, he realised he had none with him and that, in the end, the police had to borrow Fisher’s pen to write down his details. “Which just goes to show,” he laughs, “the humble pen is mightier than the sword!”

Fisher has many more tales up his sleeve but there are bee hotels to make and handles to finish. As we take the train back into the heart of the city, and the green fields begin to fade into brick, I wonder if it is this that drives the appeal of his products: in our concrete jungles and modern homes it’s a lovely thing to be able to cherish a small piece of nature and a link to the woods beyond…

Shop Geoffrey Fisher

Words by Emily Mears. Photography by Roo Lewis.

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