Only a few months have passed since Black Creek Mercantile moved to their new 8,500 square-foot, space aside the railroad tracks in midtown Kingston. Yet the former sheet metal manufacturing space already hums with the sounds of a dozen carpenters crafting the elegant furniture and accessories that have earned the company international recognition.
Woodworker/sculptor and co-founder Joshua Vogel maintains a separate business for his art but the distinction between his sculpture and Black Creek’s sculptural home furnishings is merely practical. Whether he’s crafting the perfect spoon for a stylish kitchen or a tangle of spoons suited to a gallery display, his creations make the most of the beauty inherent in wood. Some are more functional than others.
“A big part of my life is this internal conversation about the functionality or non-functionality of things,” said Vogel. “It’s certainly part of what I like to play with in the design aspect. One example is making a bowl. If the bowl fits in my hand you imagine what you can put it in it. Cereal or oatmeal or something like that, but what do you put it in it when you can barely hold it? It’s fine art when it becomes gestural or non-functional.”
Vogel, who describes himself as a former city person more comfortable upstate, is mostly self taught.
“I went to school for a number of things and at some point was really invested in studying architecture. Trying to make it through university I worked at a woodshop and that quickly superseded studying. My education was derailed by my side job.”
For some years Vogel worked in furniture and interiors, while BCM co-founder Kelly Zaneto was employed in business administration and marketing. They arrived at a professional turning point around the same time. While looking for a more satisfying way to pay the bills, they created — and marketed — a cutting board oil that blends mineral oil, cold-pressed essential oils, and bee propolis.
“Josh saw what people were buying for cutting board utensils and the wood on their counters, said Zaneto. “They were getting straight-up mineral oil or castor oil, so we just blended an oil specially for wood in the kitchen
The company’s first product was a success. After the oil, someone suggested they make cutting boards, then spoons. Other accessories followed, then distinct lines of sleek furniture, mostly made from durable white oak, a wood uniquely responsive to the company’s food-safe finishes. Nothing is mass produced. It’s an approach the founders feel strongly about.
“When we started doing the boards, the spoons, I made the decision to produce things the computer would have a hard time replicating,” said Vogel. “There was nuance to it. There was some human element to it. The whole point was that it couldn’t be CNC routed so it couldn’t be mass produced.”
Investing in the human ability to produce something unique fosters a sense of connection.
“We connect with the people we hire and train to make these things and the end result also connects people to us,” said Zaneto. “When they see the final work they feel like it has a soul to it.”
Although human contributions are emphasized, machinery improves efficiency.
“We have machines that help us spend more time with the handwork that counts the most,” said Zaneto. “We’ve built this shop around finding tools that will help our people, not replace them.”
BCM merchandise is sold around the U.S. and from Taiwan to Sweden to Australia. The sculptural appeal of the company’s creations draws visitors—and occasionally woodworking apprentices—from around the world. While some Kingston residents might not register the company’s existence, its various locations have prompted local tourism.
“We’ve always been a destination,” said Zaneto. “We’ve had people come from all over the world to see us in Kingston. They knew nothing about it except that we were there.”
The company recently added a gallery at 628 Broadway in Kingston. Hours are 11am to 5pm Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and by appointment Monday through Thursday.