Wood over plastic: the Northland illustrator making simply beautiful toys for imaginative play

Rosa May Rutherford’s Steiner background meant that wholesome toys for imaginative play were a must for her young son Maioha. Once she’d made him a couple of wooden toys she was hooked, and Dean’s Workshop was born.




deansworkshop whale

What do you make?
I make wooden toys, so far mostly animals.

How did you get into your craft?
When I was growing up, my dad was a full time wood carver, making mainly cooking spoons. I spent a bit of time in the workshop with him, but never really got into it. Through school I never enjoyed woodwork. I honestly found it so boring! I was more into art…

When I had my son, I wanted to make him some wooden toys, and since I live near my dad I was able to use all his gear. I didn’t think I would, but I got hooked straight away and now I really love it. The machinery is scary, but totally empowering. I still can’t believe how differently I feel about the whole thing as an adult. I’m so interested in learning my dad’s craft now.

Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
I studied documentary photography and illustration, so no, not in my current craft, but there is so much I can take from my degree and my amazing tutors to use in my work. I do some work as an illustrator so it was kind of easy to transition into making 3D versions of my illustrations.

Having my dad to teach me everything I need to know is a major bonus. There is no way I would be doing this if I hadn’t thought I could take advantage of his workshop, skills and knowledge.

deansworkshop cover

deansworkshop houses

Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I love the whole process, coming up with designs, the workshop and the painting. The time in the workshop is particularly fun. Learning how to use different machines feels really cool.

I am still very much a beginner, but I’m getting more and more comfortable each week. I’m pretty hooked on his home made grinder!

Is there a philosophy behind your work?
I decided I wanted to make toys for other parents who want wholesome toys for their kids, and who value imaginative play.

I have a Steiner background, and that comes into it a lot. Simple toys made from natural materials give children the opportunity to use their imagination, which I value very highly as a parent and aunty, and also as someone who has experienced a lot of life through my imagination!

If I can get even one person to choose wood over plastic, I would be happy!

There is also the environmental aspect that comes into it. If I can get even one person to choose wood over plastic, I would be happy!

Describe your workspace:
I have two! One is my dad’s workshop in the most beautiful valley surrounded by kauri forest. While I work there, my dad looks after my boy, he is always close which I think is cool for him, and me.

The other is at home. I paint when my mum or sister babysit or after Maioha has gone to bed. That quiet evening time at my desk is pretty nice.





What are you currently listening to?
I always have a shuffle on including OCMS, Ryan Adams and Cat Power.

What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
I love any book with beautiful illustrations, for obvious reasons!

What are you reading now?
I am Malala and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, (I read it over and over).

What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
I think I’m still collecting advice myself, so I’m not sure I have much to offer! I think a big one for me is not to make things too time consuming, if you want to make money. I am still mastering that one.



deansworkshop llamas

What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
I did a green dollar trade, a set of farm animals for a handmade Waldorf doll. The maker, Silvercap Dolls is so talented! She has made a bunch of gorgeous clothes including a tiny knitted jumper!

What’s in store for 2017?
I’m honestly so excited to get better and better at my craft, and make new items! I would like to get faster and more efficient with my materials, source second hand timber so that I can make my toys more environmental and as affordable as possible while still making a wee bit of coin!

I will be working on some illustration prints too and getting back into designing stationary with my sister.

Check out Dean’s Workshop on Felt for more of Rosa’s beautiful toys and artwork, and follow rosamayrutherford on Instagram to find out about her upcoming giveaway later this month with Silvercap Dolls.


Purchase from Dean’s Workshop here »



deansworkshop polar bears

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