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Meet the Maker: Tim Jones of Stissing Design

Meet the Maker: Tim Jones of Stissing Design

Tim Jones, pictured outside of his Pine Plains, N.Y. studio. | Photo: Judy Sanders.

“No rules!” To Tim Jones, this is not a call to chaos; rather it’s permission to unlock one’s own creativity in work and in life. His independent spirit has allowed him to blend his industrial skillset — welding, metalworking and blacksmithing — with his sophisticated aesthetic to design furniture and sculptures that are imprinted with his own special alchemy and crafted in his Stissing Design studio in Pine Plains, N.Y.

As Tim told NewYorkMakers.com: “I didn’t go to art or design school, but I guess I have a crazy imagination that fortunately appeals to some people.”

Tim’s independent ethos stems from his family tree, the roots of which were firmly planted in the Hudson Valley in 1711, six generations ago. According to Tim, his mother’s family, the English Sacketts (as in Sacketts Harbor, in New York’s Thousand Islands), were the first white settlers to live among the Native Americans near the small hamlet of Attlebury, just south of Pine Plains, in Dutchess County. “They lived in harmony with no problem,” said Tim. In fact, the strength of that rapport eventually led to the marriage of Tim’s great-grandmother and his Mohican great-grandfather.

Part of Tim’s inheritance is his expert craftsmanship as a sixth-generation blacksmith, exemplified by his master-forged, hand-turned candlesticks carried exclusively online by NewYorkMakers.com. From early childhood, Tim assisted his grandfather in the family’s Attlebury smithery, where his tasks began with keeping the flies away from horses being shoed and turning the bellows to maintain a 5,000-degree temperature in the coal bed.

Two of Tim's hand-forged candlestick designs, available on NewYorkMakers.com.

After he graduated from high school, his father wanted Tim to follow in his footsteps as a welder and mechanic. “He didn’t give me a choice,” Tim recalled, so he attended a two-year intensive program at Dutchess County BOCES, and earned his welding certification after acing his final exam: building a 20-step winding steel staircase. Though Tim hung out his shingle as an artisan blacksmith, he discovered “there wasn’t a lot of call for ornamental smithing. And I also found I wasn’t enjoying it.”

Choosing another path, at 24-years-old Tim ran for, and with endorsements from both parties, won the position of Superintendent of Highways for the nearby town of Stanford and parts of Dutchess County. He was the youngest-ever elected official in New York State at that time. After three two-year terms, he left elected politics, and recalled with a chuckle, “Even though I met lots of nice people and won a Citizen of the Year award, I would never, ever consider going back, or advise anyone to enter, into politics.” He spent the next 15 years as project manager for his own private construction company, Country Road Construction.

Then kismet intervened. Tim met two high-end antiques dealers who, as he described it, “were finding things in Belgium that needed little repairs here and there. They started looking at my skills and said, ‘You can do that.’”

With this European influence, Tim began working in the French Industrial design style, and started designing in zinc, an unusual choice. “I was the first one in the United States to really do zinc,” he asserted. In Europe, they use zinc “not so much for its looks as for its practical qualities, including being antibacterial, which is useful making such things as clam bars. Here in US, it’s been more for the aesthetics. It just has a nice, warm, soft feel about it, as opposed to stainless steel or granite. And it develops a warmer and better patina as it is used. That said, many here now go with zinc because you can do away with tablecloths, which is a huge expense, and the chemicals they clean them with aren’t environmentally safe.” As he became known for his work in this niche, his design business took off.

Tim’s commissions have included making 60 zinc-topped tables for the Atlantic Grill near NYC’s Lincoln Center, and among other notable projects both in state and throughout the country. Tim surmised, “I think one of the reasons I’ve been so successful is it’s a really, really difficult material to work with. It’s really hard to solder. The melting point is really low. It’s not as soft and malleable as copper. Zinc is rigid. It doesn’t bend easily. It’s just a really difficult material."

And Tim launched a new chapter, marrying his welding skills with his artistic leanings. At any given time he has between one to 10 projects in the queue, but each is unique. “Very rarely do I do something twice,” he said. His products are special in part due to their unusual materials: zinc, mild steel, recycled wood and reclaimed materials, which range from factory machinery to mill wheels to tree trunks, often sourced from the Pine Plains area.

In a bizarre twist of fate, Tim recounted an instance in which a young man offered him a windfall of salvaged industrial equipment from a mill in Bangall, a town just down the road. Tim said he “realized my great-grandfather had owned that mill and had a blacksmith shop nearby.”

Words of wisdom inside of Tim Jones' Stissing Design studio.

While he’s one of Pine Plains’ native sons, Tim’s customers live far beyond the perimeters of Pine Plains. He has made products that have found homes as far afield as Saudi Arabia. Recently, Ralph Lauren was celebrating his brother Jerry’s 40th anniversary at the Ralph Lauren Corporation, and sought the perfect gift to mark the occasion. Jerry collects weathervanes, and the company’s head of design contacted Tim to commission a weathervane in the image of Jerry Lauren himself; “It was a huge hit.”

When he steps out of the studio, Tim immerses himself in Stissing Mountain’s landscape, which is such a wonder of flora and fauna that it is the focal point of an entire exhibition at NYC’s American Museum of Natural History. He is a walking encyclopedia of the history and natural wonders of his special pocket of New York State. In his ‘backyard,’ Tim recommends exploring Thompson Pond Preserve, “a big protected area that you can hike around” with a stunning array of waterfowl; he asserts that Stissing Lake has “one of the best beaches you’ll ever see;” and he encourages a ramble through the 600 acres of Buttercup Nature Preserve, run by the Audubon Society.

Tim welcomes visitors to experience the Pine Plains he loves. He works with his best friend and former wife, Annie Jones, who operates a gem of boutique called Pieces, located in the same building as the Stissing Design studio, where she sells a curated selection of locally-made art, jewelry, clothing, homegoods and, of course, Tim’s furniture and sculptures. Perhaps “No Rules” is the best rule of all.

Pieces, the boutique adjacent to Tim's Pine Plains, N.Y. studio, owned by Annie Jones.