Wednesday, April 13

Pull up a stool...

I was the first of a long line of grandchildren. This often made me the automatic “tester”. When my grandparents, aunts, uncles etc had something to try out, I was the first they went to. Sometimes this did not prove to be in my best interest, like the time my Uncle Twins thought perhaps I would make a nice football. To my mothers horror they were lobbing me back and forth across my grandmother’s living room. It was a concrete floor covered with a braided rug. Years later, the rug and concrete were covered with padding and carpet and none of my other cousins probably even remember the braided rug, nor have faded memories of the Uncle Twins tossing them like salad.

All of us cousins do have a common thread, and eventually that will lead to today’s featured artist, but first about my Papa. Our Papa was a carpenter. He could build or fix almost anything. If our toys broke beyond what daddies could repair, it was off to Papa's shop. He would clean corroded battery compartments, rewire things, glue miniscule parts together and like something mystical our toys were suddenly fixed. It could be related to Santa’s workshop in the magic of it all. The best things though to come out of papas shop  were not reconstructed toys, but life lessons. It seemed there was allways a lesson or tale playing from grandpa’s lips, background music for our lives echoing from the shop. He loved raising us up right.

He also loved to make us Papa stools. And me, being the tester got the very first one! They were a right of passage. Once a grandchild became old enough to walk, but was still too short to reach anything from their newly upright position, Papa made them a stool. It had a little handle and could be carried anywhere. They  were useful for more than just stepping on. They became lap tables when we ate dinner at the TV, they were desks for color books and crayons, flipped upside down with a blanket in them they were cradles for our baby dolls, for the boys they could use them as bridges for their trucks. Oh… a Papa stool. Mine was the first. I loved it. It was stolen a few years back from my front step. I had been using it for a seat whie I pulled weeds from the flower beds. It broke my heart, and continues to break my heart every time I try to reach something and its just out of grasp. Almost like papa now, he too is just out of reach, gone, stolen all to early.  I can almost hear his voice when I am working on a project, can almost hear the faint echo of his voice guiding me, the flicker of his blue eyes shining, the warmth of his hug...but ..its right there, just out of reach.

Imagine the joy I felt though when I came across the work of Matt Ricketts. Right there in his Bonanza shop, Rdesigns, he had a papa stool. Well not exactly a papa stool, but pretty darn close- worth grasping for, for sure! Obviously his work caught my eye and as I browsed his listings I became more and more enchanted by him. It wasn’t long and he and I were scheming to get him here on the Bumpkin Blog. His witty comments and sense humor have kept me giggling through this interview process and I have enjoyed greatly working with him.

So in his very own words….

 Matt Ricketts, RDesigns

1. Can you tell us your name and a bit about yourself and where you live?

My name is Matt. I grew up in a small town in northeast Iowa. I currently live in Colorado, a bit north of Denver. Close enough to the mountains to be able to see Rocky Mountain National Park from my back porch. Or at least I could before they finished the houses behind me. So I’m in town enough to essentially be about in the middle of a subdivision. Far enough out of town to hear the coyotes at night.

2. What about your family, can you tell us about them?

Most of my family is back in Iowa. Each generation seems to move a bit farther out from the center hub of where my grandparents lived. And each generation seems to have one member who splits off and moves a couple of states away. Last generation it was my uncle Larry. This generation it is me. At least I didn’t have to dig my own outhouse.

3. When did you first become interested in art?

Hmm… This, I think, is going to be the most difficult question for me. On the one hand, there is the simple answer that one of my grandmothers started me painting when I was around 5 years old. It later became apparent that I can’t paint (or draw for that matter), I moved into other areas. The thing is, nothing I did art-wise then has anything to do with what I am doing now. In fact, there were several years when I did nothing artistic at all.

I guess the most honest answer is that what I am doing now didn’t come from the realm of art. And I kind of have a hard time thinking of myself as an artist. This seems kind of odd since I was just featured as a guest artist at the Madison & Main art gallery in Greeley, CO. Then again, when I went to the reception on opening night with the rest of the artists, it felt kind of strange. Like clothes that don’t quite fit right. I’m more of a craftsman, or at least that’s the level to which I aspire.

4. Who was your biggest influence and why?

My inspiration started with my parents and grandparents. My grandparents grew up during the Great Depression and lived through the Second World War. Growing up during that period taught them some enduring lessons. They did not grow up living in a disposable society. While that trend did begin to rise in the late 40’s & 50’s, it was not something that they followed as much. The still did much of their own canning, had large gardens, and watched carefully what they bought. They bought plenty of things, don’t get me wrong here. What they did though, what they taught their kids to do, is to evaluate carefully what they did buy. They would look for the best quality that they could afford. Then they would see if that item was worth buying at that price or if it would be better to save up some more and make do with what they had until they could afford a better quality item. They were not the disposable sort. As I said, they instilled this into their children. So between my parents and my grandparents (who were always more than happy to give their grandchildren a lesson in personal economics), I never had a chance. I was going to be a non-disposable person in an increasingly disposable society. I know that I’m not the only one. I see it in the surge in popularity of handmade goods. I hear it from other shoppers.

I can understand people’s affinity with old homes. I share it. I acknowledge that the homes we build now often have much better technology, there is nothing romantic or cool about a 50 year old electrical or plumbing system (at least not when you are the one living with it). It’s hard to be nostalgic about what passed for insulation then or the joys of drafty old single pane windows. But that’s not why we love those houses is it? No, we love the old mantels and the old trim work. We love all of those little details that used to get incorporated, like putting the decorative scalloped siding on the upper parts of the outside of a Victorian house. When those old beautiful houses were built, the craftsmen who built it treated their work like building fine furniture. Their work was not only beautiful, but it was solidly built to work well and to last. I approach what I make in the same way. As much as I’m inspired by those old houses, I’m even more inspired by the craftsmen who built them. They weren’t particularly flashy or boastful. We don’t even remember their names anymore. They let their body of work speak for them. It is still speaking for them now and they wouldn’t have accepted anything less from themselves. Those are the men that I try to emulate and that is what I try to live up to with everything I make.

5. What is your favorite medium and why?

At the moment it is probably wood, since that is what most of my work is in at the moment. I’ll probably start doing a bit of metal work in the next year or so and I’m sure I’ll enjoy that (I actually preferred metals to woods in high school. Welding is just fun.). The leather working I’m doing at the moment has been quite enjoyable. Moving from helping my wife design jewelry to actually making some myself has also been enjoyable. I think I’ll be learning to knit and crochet here soon. You know, for my spare time (LOL, I crack myself up). The knitting probably won’t be for sale though, I’m thinking prayer shawls.

It’s not so much the medium really. It’s taking something, using your own skill and creativity, and creating something more than the sum of its parts. It’s about creating something of use and beauty that benefits people for years into the future. Something whose overall effect is hopefully far greater than the materials and time that went into it. Something that lives a life greater than its beginning.

6. How long have you been working in this medium?

I’ve been doing woodworking for about 10 years or so. Leatherworking about a year. Jewelry, I don’t know. A couple years off and on?

7. What other arts do you enjoy?

Oh let’s see, I brew beer. I make wine with my wife. We both cook, garden, and can food from our garden. We make candles from time to time. I’ve taken talking my wife into sewing something for me to something of an art form. Does that count? Other than that, give me a couple of months. I get distracted with something else. It’s like art and craft attention deficit…. Ooo look! A squirrel! Shiney objects! What were we talking about again?

8. Can you tell us a little bit about your process?

Oh I could, but frankly it would be a little boring. If I’m making something specifically for somebody, I’ll ask them a couple dozen questions to get an idea of what they want. What do they want it made out of, the function, the size, etc. Then I’ll draw it up, probably ask a few more questions, send them the drawing, and maybe ask a few more questions to refine the plan.

Otherwise, I’ll start with what I want to build (for example, wall clocks). Then I’ll get a rough idea of what materials I want to use (Do I want to add crystals to it? Inlay?). Then I’ll come up with a couple of basic shapes in my head and build it once in my head. Then actually draw one up on paper to make sure that how I built it in my head will actually work. In the process probably forget about the other shapes I had in mind and then remember them at some other inconvenient time (and hopefully remember to sketch them so I can come back to them later). Then it’s just a matter of building one, probably changing something half way through, and hope it works. Or at least make notes as to what to do differently next time around.

9. Where do you find inspiration?

It really depends upon what direction I’m working in. I get a lot of my inspiration from furniture styles that were popular around the time of the Founding Fathers (Federalist, Georgian Revival, etc.). That being said, the ideas going through my head for larger works at the moment blend modern/contemporary designs and rustic/primitive designs.

When you look at my body of work, you will notice that you can’t really pin me down to one style or genre. I see too many inter-related aspects in seemingly unrelated things (such as art and math). Why does my work go off in so many different directions? Because my brain goes off in that many different directions. Actually, it goes off in more directions, I just haven’t built the rest of them yet. Just wait until I add the steampunk stuff I have in mind. Oh, and the mixed media too….

10. Where can we find more of your work?

Probably the best place to go would be: Rdesigns.

You could also check my facebook page: Heck, if you have a gmail account, follow me on Google Buzz.


  1. I actually have silent tears flowing down my cheeks right now! My Sweet Trina girl, you capture Papa perfectly in this! with his stools and his guidance in our lives...He was the very first person I ever noticed who wasn't afraid of talking to strangers:-) Something I feel is also apart me, of him showing how a happy kind greeting goes along ways....

  2. Just a quick little update......

    The facebook page address has changed to :

    I also have my website up and limping along (, so stop by! Take a look at some of the new stuff. Laugh at my general lack of .php and HTML coding skill! :D