Bob Dickey, Jewelry Boxes

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Bob Dickey
Bob Dickey has always been fascinated by wood, and started working in the medium for practical reasons—to make the things he couldn’t afford to buy, from furniture to kitchen cabinets to home additions!

Today, in his Mukwonago, Wisconsin studio, he focuses his efforts on jewelry and keepsake boxes, handcrafted from domestic and exotic hardwoods from the US, Central and South America, and Africa.

Have you always worked with your hands?
Yes. Watching my father fix things, build things, solve household problems with unique creations showed me what could be done and how not to be intimated.

Bob shows his grandson sanding techniques for a box insert.

What drew you to your chosen craft?
I was always interested in, and trying my hand at art. Starting at the Minneapolis School of Art and Design, trying my hand at drawing, sculpture, and oil painting. Then marriage and a family put me on a practical course similar to my father’s, of building furniture and cabinets, finishing basements, adding to our home, and the like. I found I loved both the creative and execution sides of working with wood in my little shop.

After several decades, and needing no more furniture or home additions, I sought a way of continuing working with wood. Thus in 1999, I began making boxes, and have never stopped.

What do you enjoy most about your craft?
The creative side. Coming up with a design that has beauty and character, and then seeing that evolve through to the finished product. With a few exceptions, each of my pieces is unique in this respect. Whether the particular wood combinations, the proportions, or unique design elements, I am always trying something new. Craftsmanship is very important in support of the creative. Poor craftsmanship will immediately detract or nullify creative design, so I continue to work on that, but the most pleasure comes with completion and hopefully seeing a piece of art.

How long did it take you to become an expert?
I don’t consider myself an expert. Yes, I have made over 4,000 boxes since 1999, but feel I have yet to scratch the surface of tools, techniques, and woods potentially available for me to learn and use. I have tried to become very good at a set of techniques for making boxes, and then I look for another one to learn and apply, then another, and so on. Still, I have a long way to go and more things to explore and hopefully master.

How many hours do you spend making each item?
It varies drastically. Time is influenced by the complexity of the design, size of the piece, and how different it is from others I have done.

If you could spend a day with a master of your craft (past or present), who would it be and why?

Bob Dickey checks his work, insuring the angle of the cut is 45 degrees.

That person would be Doug Stowe. He is a master craftsman and box maker. What I am most impressed with is the wide range of his original designs and the woodworking techniques and skills he is able to apply in achieving them.

Is there any one person who has bought/used any of your products that makes you especially proud?
Not a single person, but a group …. Artists. I have participated in Fine Art shows and exhibitions around the Midwest for many years. I am extremely proud of the number of outstanding artists who have purchased or commissioned work for themselves and for special gifts.

What does the future hold for your type of work? Are you training young people in your craft?
Fewer and fewer people are getting involved in woodworking and that’s a shame. If nothing else, it provides a sense of self confidence, a creative outlet, and the ability to build something that lasts. I am mentoring my grandson who has always shown an interest in building things. Together we built a workbench this summer.

Why is it important for people to make things with their own hands?
Most importantly, I think, is that it builds confidence. I have taught a number of adult classes, and just enjoy seeing a student look at the piece he or she just completed and exclaim, “Wow, look what I did!” That’s the first step, and then it’s hard to stop.

In what ways are handmade goods better than those that are mass-produced?
Very often they are of a much better quality and have a permanence that many mass produced products no longer have. But more importantly, they bring a piece of the craftsperson’s love of the materials and creative skills, and often a bit of a story that no factory can provide.

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