All About Riccio Thimbles

In the early 1980’s I became interested in making thimbles. Thimble making is a skill traditional metal smiths were proud of, and I also wanted to be a part of this heritage.

My first few thimbles were made for working. I decorated some of them with my own intricate patterns. My decorations were attracting a lot of interest and discussion. The thimble functionality was always my starting point, but for many collectors it was a secondary consideration. It seemed that placing more emphasis on the visual statement would be well received and give me more room to be creative. I began to view the thimble as an artistic statement.

Embellishing the surfaces was one way of adding visual content. Exploring a change in shape was also worth looking into. I searched for a theme that would lend itself to the shape of a thimble and came up with the owl. I merged the body of an owl with tapered barrel of a thimble to create a new form that expressed qualities of both. Then I added detail to further define the owl concept and texture to enrich the surface. I took great care to keep the shape simple and clean. There are no open spaces. Projecting forms, such as legs and wings are flattened and attached to the surface. You can do this yourself by folding your arms or placing them against your side to take up less space. Simplicity of form is one way to achieve a pure statement. The Japanese have perfected this concept in the art of Netsuke carving. In this same fashion, I made the Bullfrog, Lion, and Turtle thimbles.

One day, a thoughtful customer came up with a suggestion for a new thimble. “Make a thimble that looks like a spool of thread.” She was right. A thimble is all about sewing. I went to work on this idea and came out with the Singer Sewing Machine thimble. I gave her the first one.

About this time, a representative from the Smithsonian’s catalog division found some of the new designs to be interesting. For a few years several of the thimbles made their way into the Smithsonian catalogs and were quite successful. One year, I had a request for a new thimble that would be suitable for the spring catalog. I had a few ideas and submitted them as sketches. A drawing was selected for its use of romantic flowers(roses and forget me nots). I went to work on it and created the Rose thimble.

The National Wildlife Federation had a different focus. The Frog Pond thimble was designed to raise funds for the preservation of wetlands. This thimble took the form of a diorama. The top of the thimble is a raft of lily pads. A frog sits on one of them and a tree stump sticks out indicating that this wetland is new. The side of the thimble is carved as a low relief. It depicts the pond beneath the lilies.

The Rain Forest thimble was another transitional piece. It went just a little further in expanding the top above the body of the thimble. A toucan and a tree stand in the open, above the thimble itself, which serves as a base. Many designs followed using the thimble in this pedestal fashion. The top assemblies grew ever taller and wider.
I have introduced a lot of ideas into the making of my thimbles. Small changes in philosophy have given rise to distinct visual styles. I also like to work on one of a kinds. This is a time to listen to that inner voice, explore more expansive compositions and press the outer limits of my expertise. The resulting creations tend to be more art than utility. My subject matter can vary widely: teddy bear acrobats, seascapes, toys and just about anything else. Ideas come from many sources and the possibilities are endless, but there is a down side. Making these exotic forms is very time consuming. As complicated as these pieces may appear, they all have a “thimble” as the core form.
At this point I have been making thimbles for more than 25 years. There have been many experiments and modifications in my approach. Through it all, my aesthetic sense somehow remains identifiable. If it is a Riccio design, it looks like one.

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