When I visited artist Ron Black at his Oak Run studio, it felt like Willie Wonka was leading me through the Chocolate Factory. Ron, better described as an eccentric contractor than deranged candy maker, has worked on projects as diverse as the restoration of an 1860s stage stop hotel in Mendocino, a private zoo for 75 exotic animals in Vista and a feral cat enclosure for the local Stillwater Cat Rescue.
Ron recalls these projects with great passion, and after a tour of his studio, home to his latest artistic venture, Second Time Tables, I understood what it must have felt like for Charlie to unwrap a Golden Ticket.
In his Oak Run version of Wonka’s factory, Ron creates upscale, one-of-a-kind tables and umbrella stands. Ron’s pieces are high-sheen, jewel-speckled show-stoppers, created from surprisingly utilitarian materials: recycled bottles, concrete and sand. Ron is proud of the recycled nature of his work (he saves thousands of pounds of glass each year from landfills), but it’s the intricacies of his artistic process that make these objects coveted by those who want to surround themselves with original things.
Like other eccentric artists, Ron is a problem-solver. If he needs a machine to perform a specific task, he creates it himself. “He’s like McGyver,” said his partner, Connie Koch. “Give me an hour and I’ll fix it for ya,” Ron chimed in.
Unlike Wonka, he can’t shrink his guests or create everlasting gobstoppers. But by trial and error, Ron perfected the raw material for each unique tabletop and umbrella stand: a magic blend of cement, sand and crushed glass. He built the forms for molding the secret cement formula, assembled custom vibrating machines to eliminate air bubbles, perfected a seven-step grinding and polishing process and discovered the perfect sealant.
I looked everywhere in Ron’s immaculate studio for Oompa Loompas. It seemed natural for Ron to have help operating the custom-built devices in each corner, but partner Connie Koch is the only small-statured person I found.
Equally unconventional, Connie is a one-woman support system. She’s mainly behind the scenes as Ron’s marketing machine but comes out to play, lending advice about color and design, when she needs to bring her own ideas for Second Time’s work to fruition.
Ron’s studio is a perfect model for function-meets-art. Outside, in the sorting area, Ron meticulously washes and scrapes the labels from discarded cobalt, emerald, chocolate and opaque beer, wine and liquor bottles before crushing them with a custom-made tamp bar designed to create an assortment of perfectly-sized nuggets. After the crush, the glass is tumbled in a cement mixer and meticulously sorted by color and carefully shelved like bins of precious gems.
Once the main ingredient for his creations is prepared, Ron’s creative process can begin. Ron blends the polished morsels with a secret concoction of sands and concrete. The mixture is poured into one of Ron’s custom molds and vibrated to remove air bubbles. Then, the cured piece is polished to a high sheen before it’s sealed. Each table, from mixing to grinding has about 15-hours of sweat equity.
Ron is continuously innovating, finding more efficient ways to create his art and devising new ways to mold his materials. When I visited, I gave my two-cents about the color scheme for a chess board in production and tried my best to envision the engineering involved in Ron’s latest vision: triple-tiered water features. He channeled Wonka for a minute when he envisioned, with wide-eyed artistic enthusiasm, how water would trickle across and over the crystalline tiers of candy-colored glass.
Recently, Ron has become friends with Trinity County-based artist Mike Hopko, another incredible, but offbeat artist, and talked him out of the shattered pieces and cast-off’s from Hopko’s unique blown glass sea creatures. Ron will eventually embed Hopko’s colorful shards into his own works.
It’s this kind of artistic collaboration and innovation that caught the eye of Allegro Classics, international patio outfitters to cruise lines and hotels. Allegro wants Ron to apply his techniques to umbrellas stands and awning bases that look at home in five-star settings, and stay-put in high winds and choppy seas. Today Oak Run, tomorrow the world.
Ironically, there is one part of the artistic process that Ron has absolutely no control over: the final product. He can do all of the careful mixing pouring and vibrating to each table and umbrella stand that he wants. But, it’s only after sanding the layers of cement hiding the embedded glass and polishing the surface to a Second Time Tables-quality sheen that the piece reveals itself. “We love the reveal,” said Connie. “It’s always a big surprise.”
To learn more about Ron and purchase a one-of-a-kind piece, visit secondtimetables.com.