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If you’ve ever wondered what a first class retirement looks like, meet Rick Black of Black Forest Custom Woodworks. Rick and his wife Anne retired in 2016, and today call Harbour Island in Narragansett home. After a distinguished career in financial services working mostly in CT for banks and insurance companies like Travelers, Marsh, TD Banknorth, Bank of America and William Gallagher, Rick returned to Rhode Island where he was born and raised.
Inspired by his late father Rod Black, Rick took an early interest in woodworking and received his art training from mentors and instructors reining from some of New England’s most notable art teaching institutions, including Rhode Island School of Design, Dartmouth’s Art Department, and Yale Art School.
Upon retirement, Rick finally had time to devote himself fully to his craft, and opened up Black Forest Custom Woodworks in the Peace Dale Mill Complex. It was there I met up with Rick. Here are highlights from our conversation:
Describe your design aesthetic.
I favor crisp, clean lines in furniture design, similar to the Shaker style. I like the minimalistic approach and am not a fan of unnecessary adornment. I find simplicity in design to be fresh and modern and what many people like today. I use a wide range of native woods, cherry being my favorite, and enjoy mixing wood types in a single project. I source some of the wood from a family property in NH. Creating pieces that show the wood grains and emphasize the character of the wood is my signature. It won’t shock you to hear that painting a piece of work is not my favorite thing to do.
Who are your customers and where do they come from?
Right now, most of my clients are out of state; from as far south as Atlanta, Georgia to as far north as Vermont. Did I mention I deliver? I’m lucky that my wife Anne has a car that can make that happen! I enjoy working with people who have a specific and unique vision.
Most of my projects involve doing sketches, and incorporating client feedback along the way until we fulfill the client’s vision. The project is done when everyone is happy. It’s a journey. Time moves quickly for me when I’m in my shop, it’s not uncommon for me to be working intensely on a project and look up to see 10 hours has passed.
Tell me about some projects.
For a corporate client, I make small batch productions of clocks, trivets or cutting boards for his holiday gift giving. The clocks are made from burl wood. Burl wood is anything but average. The swirls and twirls in the bark all create a unique wood grain that is special.
Exodus Construction is a local Design-Build company. They asked me to resurrect a spectacular old door from Salve Regina and turn it into a unique glass topped table. Their interior designers have the table in their showroom and use it as a display space for client meetings where they present selections for home remodeling projects.
I resurrected a partial hatch I found off Briggs Beach in Little Compton, RI that likely came from a Portugese fishing boat. It was 12 feet long and I brought it back to the shop, cut it in half, and pieced it together to make a unique 6 foot table. The patina you get on wood that has been submerged in water over a period of time is unmatched. Locally sourced pieces of woods from Rhode Island waters have the potential to be crafted into one of a kind pieces.
When you’re not building, what are you up to?
Salt Ponds Investment Club
I’m a founder and president of Salt Ponds Investment Club, which is comprised of 20 members, organized into 4 teams of 5. It’s an investment group with a clear focus. We’re social and have fun making money together. Our meetings are held once a month at local restaurants. Teams rotate from meeting to meeting and make presentations and advise on trade decisions. Twenty also represents the cap on our total number of investments. We consistently out perform the S&P, and have a wait list.
Harbor Island Wine Club
One day a neighbor offered me a glass of wine on the beach. In a single sip I knew this was no ordinary wine. Later, I accepted his invitation to join the Harbour Island Wine Club. We gather regularly to enjoy a wide range of wines and to expand our knowledge of viniculture. Many of my new retirement experiences have sprung out of connecting to opportunities through those who live on Harbour Island. I’m also President of the Harbour Island Improvement Association, which gives me a way to have a positive impact on this 140 acre lush peninsula surrounded by Point Judith Pond. The hilly seaside land on Harbour Island is beautiful and provides salt-pond water views for many of our 325 residents.
Rick’s Salt Life
When I’m not in my woodworking shop, you’ll find me out on the water whenever possible. I have a 22-foot center console Cobia and two sailboats. My fleet of kayaks and paddle boards come in handy when our children and four grandsons are visiting. I also have a 10 foot inflatable boat I use for my job as a Citizen Scientist for the Salt Ponds Coalition doing water quality testing in Point Judith Pond. My testing spot is Gardner Island. I encourage everyone to become a member of the Salt Ponds Coalition and support their work to preserve and protect RI salt ponds. Without them, there would be no monitoring of the ponds, and a year without testing is a year of data lost forever.
Peace Dale Mill October 21st Open House
On Sunday, October 21st you’ll have the opportunity to visit Rick in his Peacedale Studio at an open house reception from 3-6 p.m. This is a fundraiser event for the South Kingstown Land Trust; order tickets here. There you’ll get to join Rick and other noted furniture makers and fellow artisans as they open their studios for an afternoon of drinks, conversation, and studio tours.
Rick will no doubt have his his “Smalls Table” stocked that week with items for you to buy. From cutting boards and trivets, to smaller trays and custom boxes, to handmade clocks, Rick has an unpredictable assortment of selections. Rick’s parting gift to me was a burl table clock which now sits on my Green Hill mantle.