Designer Spotlight: Black Creek Mercantile & Trading Co.

Designer Spotlight: Black Creek Mercantile & Trading Co.

Dwell chats with Joshua Vogel, the carpenter-craftsman behind the lovely, hand-turned kitchenware and sculptural pieces from Black Creek Mercantile & Trading Co. in Kingston, New York, and his partner, Kelly Zaneto.

What is your official title? Carpenter? Craftsman?

Joshua Vogel in his Hudson Valley, New York, studio.

Vogel: That is a good question, and it’s actually something I ask myself all the time. I’ve been working with wood in some aspects for as long as I can remember, definitely since I was a child. I remember being given a pocketknife when I was about nine or ten and whittling sticks.

Can you explain the wood turning process?

Vogel: It begins with a piece of wood—the more wet and raw it is, the better. The wheel works like a potter’s wheel, except instead of being oriented horizontally it is oriented vertically. The machine spins the log and you level a type of chisel on it to cut into the wood. Generally speaking, wood turning creates pieces that are concentric and round—spindles, chair legs, bannisters—but people challenge that rule all of the time. I use a free-form process, when the wood is wet I cut the general thick shape I want, and then let it dry to refine it later.

Each of Vogel’s pieces are free-form turned by hand.

Is the drying process why your pieces can take up to six months to complete?

Vogel: Yes. If you think about it, the main function of a tree trunk is to move water up to the branches. So when you initially put a trunk on the lathe, water will spray off of the wood. The drying process takes awhile, and for pieces larger than 12 inches in diameter, it can become more difficult.

How do you pick the wood you use? Is there a particular kind you like?

Vogel: Kelly and I use wood from a variety of sources, here in the Hudson Valley it is all over the place. We just keep our ears to the ground and when a tree falls down or needs to be removed we use them. For the kitchen tools I use two types of wood: cherry and sugar maple. Both of these woods grow wild around here and are super hard, aromatic types of wood. Actually the other day someone commented on how nice I smelled, and it was just sawdust.

"If you take 30-40 photos of the entire process, you can see that transcendent moment when the piece of wood becomes a spoon," says Vogel.

Your pieces look so tactile, is that on purpose?

Vogel: There is a human aspect to art that I think is important and I don’t know exactly how to relay that except by a feeling. I hope that handcrafting and artisanal pieces create a human connection. The idea is that they [the pieces Vogel creates] actually get better the more familiar you are with them, even something as simple as a spoon becomes more comfortable the longer you use it.

"The whole aspect of carving is it is 100 percent reductive, so it’s a single piece of wood that can become a useful object with me putting some effort into it," says Vogel.

What was the inspiration behind your "365" kitchen tools collection?

Vogel: Well, the 365 came from the idea of making one spoon per day. As I’ve gotten older, spoons are an aspect of woodwork that is very appealing to me. They are handmade objects to use when people are cooking, which is also a handmade, intimate process. There is a connection between me making something and you making something.

Zaneto: The spoons are one of our best-selling products. It is so fascinating to watch people pick out their spoons and to see which spoon "personality" they choose.

Vogel: Yes. Each tool can have its own character, and that isn’t just dependent on different types of wood. I have four or five different types of spoon shapes, but my work is very subconscious and organic, it all depends on how the spoons feel to me while I make them.

What are you working on for this coming year?

Well, when we started this studio the whole point was for me to do more turning and sculptural work, but for the past twenty years I’ve done furniture design. I have a number of designs I am working on and hopefully in the next year I’ll be able to get it out. They will be more artistic and produced in lots of small runs...we are excited and we hope everyone else will be too.

"Cherry wood is also fantastic for smoking food, plus if you accidentally burn the spoon in the pot, it will smell wonderful," says Vogel.


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