An Inspired Process: A Portrait of Blackcreek Mercantile & Trading Co.

The subtle scent of turned wood lingers in the air as we first entered the studio of Blackcreek Mercantile & Trading Co. Wood shaped on a lathe always leaves its mark with shavings on the ground and a fragrance distinctive of the wood type. The smell of wood is often unappreciated by most people, but to the craftsman these subtle attributes create the foundation for delight and discovery. I spend most of my first moments in the studio trying to decipher the wood origin of this scent in the air. It was most likely Oak.

We sit down with the studio’s founder, Josh Vogel, in an enlightening conversation about the makings of the company. Josh was certainly a cerebral conversationalist as his thoughtful answers to our questions underscore his considerate and conscientious approach to design. There was an honest and human quality to his responses that makes it a pleasure to share this conversation.

The company itself was initially founded as a cottage industry business where it uses basic available resources to make “unique, recognizable products”, explains Josh.  Small-scale production and loosely organized product selections highlight his emphasis on the process of creation, and bridging a growing gap between designing and building. This desire to connect the maker with the end user is the basis of Blackcreek Mercantile & Trading and the reason why we consider them one of the finest examples in the re-emergence of American made craft and design industry.

How has living and working in Kingston, NY influenced your work?

JV: Kingston is particularly well suited for this type of small business. There is plenty of space for light manufacturing, low-density means more elbow room, and a solid infrastructure makes shop logistics easier to deal with. Specifically, for woodworking… this region has an abundance of great material. It is important for me to connect with the wood we choose to use in this way… in a larger, immediate context. I gather inspiration from the forest right out my back door.

I’ve noticed the scale of your work has changed since BDDW, what made you transition into smaller woodworking products and homewares?

JV: I am a student of design, I love the types of problems that design creates. I love the interaction that the problems require. I’ve always been interested in “personal” scale work. My intentions and what I want to put into the work stay the same no matter what I get involved in large or small.

Recently, I’ve been very drawn to processes like hand carving that while being very demanding, are ultimately unencumbered and spontaneous design wise. The idea that a single piece of wood can become something distinct & useful in and of itself, no glue, no nails or screws, that it can transcend its simply being as a piece of wood excites me.

What kind of impact do you want your works to make in today’s world?

JV: I have always been concerned that aesthetics & beauty are more than just aspects of style, that there is something deeper & long lasting… that value is not just conceptual… and that we need to interact on a very visceral, human level to understand & feel these things more completely. I see this as a choice, now more than ever.

As an idealist, I am a great champion of hand made things & in supporting the economy of American made design & craftwork. As an optimist, I hope I can continue to help bring this work & message to a larger, global audience. Ultimately I want people to connect with the work in the spirit in which it was made… that there is a simple, pervasive love of creation… I put it in… the optimist in me wants it to come back out.

“Ultimately I want people to connect with the work in the spirit in which it was made… that there is a simple, pervasive love of creation…” – Josh Vogel

How do you choose your materials? Any favorites?

JV: Whatever creative energy I have comes straight from the core of who I am…there is a deep well that compels me to do the things that I do. To make things, is to be fascinated with materials. Wood is a living material. As with all living things, each piece of wood is unique. Not only is each individual piece unique from one another but also each wood type is totally unique from another type of wood. Perhaps it’s a little mundane…or even obvious…but for me, this aspect of wood is a constant source of excitement & challenge.

Wood choice is not, or at least shouldn’t be, just about choosing a color – like paint… there is so much more richness and connection available to those who care to look just a bit deeper. Innate characteristics in white oak make it ubiquitous with barrel making or coopering, and the source of both color & flavor for many spirits & wines. All that said, when I get the chance, I love to use Holly, it’s my favorite.

Did you get into making oils as an extension of your interests in wood?

JV: Oil & wax have, by far, been my favorite way to finish wood over the years. There is great historical precedence for their durability, ease of maintenance & ability to protect wood. Also, after years in the industry & experimentation with a whole host of finishing techniques & types, I want to be as far away from harsh chemicals, high VOC, and plastic polymers as possible. Fundamentally finishing wood with a plastic coat of anything goes against the nature of wood, which hard or soft, behaves a lot like a sponge. Oil works with the way wood behaves, it protects from within & allows it to breathe.

Creating our own specialty oils was a natural progression that grew out of these years of experience, development & experimentation. We first packaged it as holiday gifts for family & friends, hand gluing each label with a brush. We’ve come a ways since then, although the formula & process have changed very little.

I noticed that bee propolis is a common material in all your oil alchemy. Can you tell us about its role in your oils and why it is an important ingredient?

JV: Propolis is a widely used, little understood bee product. It has been used medicinally for thousands of years & is coveted worldwide. Known to be anti-bacterial & anti-fungal, it contains over 30 distinct constituents, some of which have only recently been studied. For all of its mysteries, propolis is a 100% edible vegetable based varnish. Its particular characteristics make it an integral aspect in our cutting board oil.

Lastly, where do you see your work heading in the future?

JV: I am excited to see what the future holds for us as anybody. I have been working on a few side projects & some interesting collaborations recently, turnings, furniture, some new small items… custom projects… stay tuned.

Written by Stevenson Aung

Stevenson Aung

January 02, 2013

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