Dicky Stone: returning to his roots

From Sunshine Artist Magazine, November 2009

Stone is all about wood.

“My paternal grandfather was a furniture builder and introduced me to wood and working with it,” artist Dicky Stone (www.dickystone.com) says. “He was from Niagara Falls, New York, and spent winters with us in Savannah [Georgia]. From when I was 10 through 14 or so, my father made me help him after school each afternoon. I hated it, as what I really wanted to do was play ball in the park with my friends. However, subconsciously, what he taught me settled in my bones.”

Woodworking might have settled in the artist’s bones, but it took a while for it to course through his veins, as it was just one small part of his early life.

“What I have done [before settling on wood sculpture] is all over the place,” he says. “A partial list, in no particular order of timing or importance, would include carpenter, hippie, school teacher, commercial fisherman, businessman, window washer, solar-energy man, exporter/importer, builder, renovator of houses, consultant [and] waterworks engineer.”

It’s only in the last few years that Stone has fully returned to the lessons learned from his grandfather, and only in the last few months has he turned his attention to art shows. But the artist hasn’t relied solely on his childhood teachings. Instead, Stone, whose formal education is in English, not art, taught himself the art of woodturning and carpentry by reading, reading, reading.

“Because I am a reader and am also inquisitive, I have used books to educate myself in anything I don’t know,” Stone explains. “I literally taught myself carpentry by reading trade-school textbooks. I did the same with drafting, house design, solar energy, furniture building and finally woodturning. Of course, I have made every mistake there is to make and have actually invented a few on my own. So, a mistake is made, hopefully a lesson is learned, new gained knowledge is applied, work is completed, and every once in a while something new evolves.”

Although Stone does indeed often come up with new ideas and innovative forms, his work always seems be grounded in the old, or, more precisely, the organic. And he has not just his family to thank for that, but also the era in which he grew up.

“I grew up in an urban environment, but both my father and grandfather were gardeners and outdoorsmen,” he says. “Hunting and fishing were a large part of my childhood and teen years. So, although nature was a part of my makeup, later experiences would lead to a more clear appreciation and understanding. I came of age in the ‘60s, witnessing an obscene amount of natural destruction in Vietnam. This, more than anything, reinforced by the environmental movement of that period, shaped my worldview: Everything is connected. It is important to put back more than you take.”

Stone tries to adhere to that worldview, not just in the materials he uses but in the actual naming of his finished pieces of art.

“The naming process is important to me, but not necessarily in the way one might think,” he says. “Many artists have inspirational names for their work or sometimes will use some other process to title their work. I too do this on occasion, but most of my titles arise from a different concept. I do not use exotic or imported wood, nor do I buy wood. I only use wood that grew here in North America and to which I have some connection. In other words, most of my wood is brought to me by friends or is wood that I have found. … There is always a connection between where the tree grew, what people were associated with the tree, the process of creating the work from the tree, and the end result.”

Stone admits that he’s had difficulty embracing the terms “artist” and “sculptor,” instead often choosing to label himself a woodturner, as his pieces start their lives on a lathe. But turning the word is just step one for Stone.

“They start on a lathe, and then I will draw on the outside what I want to carve,” he says. “[I use] knives and motorized grinding tools and an awful lot of sandpaper. … I will sand all day. I enjoy sanding.”

But because woodturners are often associated with functional, not purely decorative, work, Stone admits that what he does “often subconsciously confuses people. … I rarely anymore do anything functional. I will do an occasional salad bowl or bowl that you’ll put on top of a table and put nuts in, [but more often than not], I turn [wood] into a bowl shape and then deconstruct it.”

And thanks to that artistic deconstruction, not to admit all the positive feedback Stone has received from fine art buyers, he admits, “I call myself now a wood sculptor or wood carver.”

Still, he is the first to confess that he is still learning, still making mistakes and still in debt to his artistic influences.

“This type of carving is an endeavor of risk,” Stone says. “It is a subtractive discipline: Once one takes it away, it can’t be put back. If I never broke anything, I would not be trying to do anything very difficult. … Besides, that’s what super glue is for. … I am humbled by the compliments and try to remember those from whom I learned, … mostly through books and photographs: William Hunter, David Ellsworth, Betty Scarpino, Richard Raffan, George Nakashima, Sam Maloof and Bucky Fuller. I sit at their feet.”

Part of that humble nature might stem from the fact that Stone seems grateful to be able to make a career from something he’s always loved but hasn’t always had the chance to do full time.

“I am coming late in life to what makes my heart sing,” he says. “My woodwork is what I hope to do until the eyes no longer see, the hands no longer obey and the mind no longer has imagination.”

And does Stone ever see himself turning away from wood?

“Wood, only wood,” he asserts. “I have a friend, Garland Weeks, one of the premier sculptors in the country, who, when I said I don’t know what to with clay, replied, ‘I can teach you.’ Garland, you are a master of many things, but I am an old dog. Wood, only wood. I love it. I understand it.”