Oamaru is home to a number of artisans producing beautiful pieces of art that are both stunning to look at and remarkably useful. A prime example of this is Bill Blair of Coppice Crafts, who works out of one of the “red sheds” that line the Oamaru Harbour near the penguin colony.
For those of you unfamiliar with trugs, they are a container used to carry produce and foods, and the ones that Bill makes are based on the design popular in Sussex, England. These trugs became de rigueur after Queen Victoria started using them, and are thus the style most associated with the term “trug”. The term is thought to derive from the word “truck” (and they are sometimes called “truck baskets”) while others think it might come from the word “trog”, which means “boat”, since there is a definite similarity in appearance between trugs and boats.
Bill’s trugs are all made 100% by hand, using sustainably harvested materials from around Oamaru. The rims and handles are made from willow harvested nearby in Kurow, while the slats are from felled American cottonwoods from South Canterbury, which had become overgrown and were crowding other trees. Bill’s workshop looks like it could have come from the 19th Century, with hand-operated lathes, scores of planes (including one of his prize possessions–a vintage Stanley #4 plane, made in the early 1900s, purchased in nearby Hampden for the princely sum of $35, and still boasting its original blade), and dozens and dozens of works-in-progress lining the walls.
Bill’s trugs have been used in films, since they are nearly unique in the world in that they are made in the traditional style using traditional materials. He also makes rakes, fork, shovels, brooms and log carriers, all 100% by hand, and all true works of art.
In the event that you are interested in having your own trug, rake or other piece of Bill’s work, and don’t plan to be in Oamaru any time soon, fear not! While Bill and his workshop would fit squarely in the pre-internet age, he has a fully functional website and ships his products worldwide. Just go to www.coppicecrafts.co.nz to see the range of products on offer, and he’ll take it from there!