By definition, the term “make” means “to cause to exist or happen; bring about; create.”
While making in this day and age is farmed out in a multitude of different directions, there are still makers who keep their hands deep and dirty in the process. Makers who keep their hearts full as they fine-tune their craftsmanship.
You can find many of these makers with their work showcased at markets, festivals, and sometimes even storefronts. Others may require that you enter into the depths of their studio. Some make strictly as hobby or for the sake of the art, others for business, or their entire livelihood.
The following three makers represent individuals performing their trade as full-time endeavors—makers whose end products are just as diverse as their personalities, creative processes, and physical workspaces.
These end products include furniture constructed out of century old reclaimed wood born out of a warehouse space and delivered to customers; architectural ceramics coming to life within a garage studio and driveway kiln; and designer and customized jewelry creations showcased in an immaculate, plush storefront.
If there is one—or a few—things each of these makers have in common, it’s the abundant enthusiasm for their trade, a steadfast commitment to quality and precision, dedication to local and sustainable sourcing, and of course, making each and every piece count.
“Do you smell that?” asked Joe Sinkovich when I walked up to the lumberyard where Armored Frog’s reclaimed wood furniture creations are born.
The distinct strong aroma confirmed these stumps to be deadhead Cyprus unearthed from the river depths, where they have been preserved for multiple centuries.
A history buff by nature, two years ago, the unveiling of ancient heart pine in his own 1918 home amidst a restoration process led Sinkovich to a newfound passion—old growth wood designs. As a result, he left 22 years of constructing orthopedic implants and began cutting wood.
In essence, the two surfaces “breathe” the same way he explained. “Bone expands and contracts. Wood expands and contracts. Cutting bone and cutting wood is ironically the same equipment.”
His woodwork started with planter boxes, working with Cyprus, cedar, and heart pine—woods that are rot and rust resistant, providing an “armor” of sort.
“What animal do you want in your garden to eat bugs?” he asked me. “Frogs.”
And so, Armored Frog was born.
Recognizing a niche for reclaimed wood furniture, he quickly expanded his craft to larger-scale, high end pieces including a range of tables, desks and stools, and even mirrors, frames and flooring.
“We started in the garage, moved into my sunroom, and then moved in here all within a year. Now we’re getting ready to expand again,” he said.
While many of his clients are spread across the Gulf Coast, extending to Destin and along the beaches of 30-A, Armored Frog pieces are also housed in locations from New York to San Francisco.
Sinkovich pulled out his phone to show me a photo of a massive, what appeared to be bullet-proof non-destructible, shipping container housing a seven foot table. “It represents what you’re getting inside—a piece of artwork,” he said.
These artistic furniture creations typically begin with a phone call request, met with Sinkovich’s follow up question, “What’s your budget?” Sinkovich works with each client, in 99 percent of cases, through a designer, to arrive at a custom piece made of the highest quality rare wood.
One particular dining room table I laid eyes on included heart pine from a 1937 home interspersed with boards from the year supply of lumber Sinkovich keeps on hand.
When it comes to sourcing for this reclaimed multi-century old hardwood, Sinkovich mentions cases of calling a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy. “I just find it,” he said.
And naturally, he teams up with those who extract sunken logs from rivers, bogs and the likes. “Have you seen the show ‘Swamp People’?” he asked me.
Due to the nature of the ancient wood, if stored and cared for properly, the furniture pieces will outlive their owners, making them lifelong investments.
Sinkovich compares buying furniture to buying a Porsche.
“Anybody can go to a retail store and buy a piece of furniture that is beautiful. Anybody can buy a new Porsche. Not everybody can buy a 1973 911 Porsche. You have to find it, make sure it’s in good shape, and take care of it.”
Each Armored Frog piece is built like an antique, using old world joints assembled with new world materials. Screws, glues and finishes aside, everything is constructed in the warehouse.
And because Sinkovich and his team of craftsmen are perfectionists, the quality control is impeccable, and nothing is sent out without 100 percent approval.
“Every product is signed and numbered so that we know who did it and when it was done. And there’s our signature sanding and hand waxing on the bottom,” he said.
Not only does Sinkovich put time and care into each custom piece, he gets to experience a feeling of reward when he sees expressions of satisfaction.
“To watch their eyes and see how proud they were to have taken the time to find us, help design it with their designer—I get pictures from people all the time telling me ‘thank you.’”
“For us the sign of success is repeat customers. It means clients liked it and appreciated it,” he said. The more who see these pieces, the higher the demand, and so the process continues.
A businessman by nature, Sinkovich offers a bit of advice to those who seek to make a living out of making functional art.
“Do very little,” he said. “Pick one or two things to be good at and then execute them very well. Don’t spread yourself too thin.”
Taking his own advice, Sinkovich doesn’t do just any old construction project, nor does he whip up basic cabinets or shelves, or do installations.
While the bulk of his pieces are custom work, Sinkovich keeps spec tables and other furniture items on hand for the purchasing, including his latest and greatest stump stools.
“All we do is make the best furniture you’ve ever seen,” he said with a smile. “That’s all we do.”
Shapes of Thought
“Art is not a thing, it is a way.”
This quote is written on a chalkboard situated just outside of Susan Campbell Jewelry. The store is home to an array of designer collections, including Campbell’s three private label lines, along with her customized charm assortment—SAM [Susan. Allison. Metalsmithing.] Collection.
Campbell first dabbled in metal work during her art history studies at Florida State University. It was during a welding class, she realized, “Wow, I love hammering metal.”
From here, she continued on to construct figure sculptures until she was greeted with a fork in the road—one that many aspiring artists find themselves faced with.
“There comes a point when you have to ask yourself when chasing your dreams if it’s a hobby or a business. Business is business unless you do it as a hobby, and you have to chase it as such,” she said. While Campbell is quick to note that it’s difficult to be an artist and run a business with a clear and manageable plan, she proves to be able to balance the art of both.
The SAM Collection is where Campbell truly gets her hands on the making.
Launched in 2009, this “a la carte” collection is comprised of customized hand-stamped silver and gold charms.
“You can create your own custom piece. Everybody can do it differently,” said Campbell.
Underneath the glass sits a variety of charms. Some of the charms are more basic in shape with custom inscriptions including initials, or words like “mom.” For some of the other charms, the shapes speak for themselves, such as a horseshoe or a wishbone. Each charm boasts its own characteristics.
“The charms are definitely not machine made—not at all computer generated,” she affirmed.
For the making process, Campbell hand carves the initial molds in wax, which paves the way for another mold to be made, which is sent off for another mold, then used for the cast. Although the casting itself is conducted in nearby Milton, since Campbell herself is responsible for the hand-stamping to the finished pieces for the added customizable touch, she gets to have her hands on each piece at both the start and finish of the design and production processes.
Although her simpler charm designs can take form in a matter of hours, be it in her studio or anywhere the idea strikes her, other more three-dimensional pieces can take a number of weeks, and involve several returns to the drawing board.
“You never know what your final product will look like,” said Campbell. “This bird I drew and drew and came back to it,” she said, as she held up a mold of a pelican. “He’s still not in flight yet.”
To accompany the charms on each necklace, Campbell offers a selection of prized, hand-picked gems brought home from gem shows.
Combining these gems, Campbell is currently working on developing several color palettes for her SAM collection to assist her clients in the creative process.
While her SAM Collection may be the most true to her sculpting nature, it was actually one that was born out of demand from her customers. She cites her other lines as more artistic in nature, allowing her to work with endless color combinations, and keep things ever-evolving.
These three separate private label lines include “Baby Candy,” “Stone Candy” and her premier “Oh My” diamond pieces. For her “Oh My” pieces specifically, it’s not about demand, or price points. “It’s about making something I love that I am passionate about,” she said with a smile.
Along with a close up look at some of the diamonds used, there’s her personal favorite—faceted pearls. “I’m a pearl girl,” she said.
For the execution of each piece in her private label lines, she finds herself asking the following question frequently. “Who’s the best person to do the job?”
Although she turns over some of the constructional aspects, she maintains creative control.
When she’s not at her store, Campbell is traveling to shows, coming home with trunks of jewels. “It’s a constant flow of creative information,” she said. “Sometimes I am inspired by fashion. Sometimes I am inspired by texture. Sometimes I am inspired by other artists.”
This includes artists whose work she carries in her store. And those outside of her trade that she collaborates with. She showed me a sculpture on hand that was a collaborative effort with Ben Bogan incorporating a fossilized piece. She then shared her excitement for a flower ensemble that was in the making with the help of Shannon Pallin of Fiore.
“I like being around other people and having them involved in my work—then it’s evolving and not just my vision,” she said.
Susan Campbell Jewelry/SAM Collection
32 S. Palafox
Since the beginning of his pottery journey in the 1970s, the name Peter King has been synonymous locally with “clay carpentry.”
After earning two honors degrees simultaneously, rather than continuing onto Harvard graduate school on fellowship at the ripe age of 21-years-old, King had a greater vision.
“I was throwing pottery one night about 4 o’ clock in the morning in the studio and all of the sudden I had this vision of this giant glazed ceramic column with ladies’ faces with swirling hair. It was very art nouveau and had giant columns,” he said.
It was then King realized, “You don’t just have to make pots out of this [clay], you could make whole buildings.” Recognizing this was an age-old historical endeavor, he decided to revive it as a studio art form. In turn, both his writings and art centered around the idea that you don’t have to have an elaborate and vastly sized studio to create. You can have something the size of a garage and do large scale work within, which is exactly what he has done.
“I’ve built a lot of pieces in a lot of places that didn’t have studios,” said King, mentioning a time in Coral Springs he and his wife Xinia Marin completed a large scale arch outside in the parking lot.
“Nothing is impossible,” added Marin, a 20-year, technically trained and functional pottery veteran herself.
Although King and Marin have carried their passion for architectural ceramics far beyond Pensacola, installing and unveiling public art pieces from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Vancouver, and conducting workshops and residencies all the while, their studio is nestled in the heart of East Hill.
Here at StoneHaus, the work begins with clay that is harvested from Pace and surrounding local areas.
In addition to clay, the garage studio space boasts numerous glazes which Marin mixes and masters so to finish each piece with exquisite coloring.
Just outside the studio is the gas kiln used for firing, one King compares to a barbecue pit in jest. Built by King in 1987, this towering, brick kiln was grandfathered in and is said to be the only one of its kind within the city.
Situated at the front of King’s property is his gallery space, open to the public. Here you will see functional pieces ranging from modest sized mugs and bowls to larger sinks and decor. Plus sculptures that are Marin’s creations, including ornate tree-houses and even nativity scenes.
“Each year at Christmas I make different ideas,” said Marin.
Once it was sculptural post-Ivan houses, another year, a series even a bit more personal.
“One year when my mother died, I did moms,” she said.
“Narrative pieces,” affirmed King.
While carefully walking through the gallery, Marin held up a replica of their largest and most detailed piece of public art. The full size piece two years in the making was unveiled this week in Gulf Breeze. Adorned with indigenous sea turtles, live oaks, and shells on one side, this two-sided arch represents the natural wonders of the area.
“Public art is not like doing your own work,” said King. “You do something that addresses the community—that talks about the community in some kind of way, the history, or its aspirations.”
Similar large scale pieces on display in our area include the arch standing in front of the Center for Fine and Performing Arts at the University of West Florida, a piece within WUWF radio station, which happens to be King’s first public art piece, and the 911 memorial in Martin Luther King Plaza.
Now that their latest massive unveiling is behind them, King and Marin will be taking a breather while gearing up to toss, fire and glaze away on smaller scale pieces to keep the gallery stocked.
“If we’re here the gallery sign says ‘Open,’” said King.
Although they are not able to host their fully involved kiln opening party where patrons eagerly await pieces fresh out of the fire, they promise new work to be coming out of the kiln between now and the holidays.
“A lot of times we’re unloading the kiln on Christmas Eve when I run out of coffee mugs,” said King.
“I like to tell people that this is the only place in town you can get new inventory the last week before Christmas. New work that no one has seen, that is not picked over.”
2617 N. 12th Ave.