Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Studio Visit: Toymaker Frank Ridley

Originally uploaded by amyshaw.
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
- Thoreau (from Different Drummer Workshop’s brochure)

Back in November, Jae and I made a visit to Solon, Maine, where Frank Ridley lives and makes traditional wooden toys from local pine and maple. (Solon is in the middle of the state, north of Skowhegan, about 8 hours north of NYC.)

Click here for the virtual studio tour!

Ridely is a spirited, good-natured man who builds solid, gentle toys that are free from toxic finishes and made with mindfulness toward young children’s development and curiosities. “We believe,” he writes in his brochure, “that toys intended for children should be non-violent and simple in design, leaving the child to use his or her own imagination (instead of a battery) to fill in whatever details are needed at the time of play.” When we tell customers about Ridley, we often say he even looks like Santa’s brother. You can see why…

Ridley has been making wooden toys since 1973 when he and his family moved away from the “big city industrial rat race” to the Maine woods and set up Different Drummer Workshop. They cleared a yard, built a passive-solar log house from what they cut down, and built a barn that serves as the workshop. For a while he worked with his wife and children, but today it’s just him.

Evidence of Ridley's early life as an engineer is everywhere. The way he packs a box of toys is remarkable—everything fits together like a puzzle into a perfect, compact package. His house, a showcase of forward-thinking, ecologically-minded design, is heated in part by the carefully calculated therodynaic synergy between the long bank of south-facing windows and the massive Trombe wall that runs the entire height and length of the house.

Frank doesn’t seem to miss city living at all. Even after 32 years of toymaking, his work still gives him joy and he is passionate when talking about what he does. (He is also a huge fan of the Red Sox and the New England Patriots, but he and Jae, a long-time Yankees fan, still get along just fine.)

You can see him here in these pictures (click here for slideshow) packing our order, explaining the rules of traditional games, and fixing a busted helicopter that we brought up to him for repair on behalf of a customer. We are lucky to have found Frank Ridley. And we feel grateful to be able to offer our customers at Greenjeans his wonderful toys.

Click here to see what we have available through our Online Store. There are many more of Frank's toys and games to be found in our Brooklyn shop!

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