Story and Photography By Carolyn Bowers
Ron Gold discovered the ancient art of wood intarsia after a California wildfire destroyed his home, and now he’s perfecting the craft in Brunswick County.
Ron Gold’s story is a good example of how life’s unexpected events often take us in entirely new and rewarding directions.
For most of their married life, Gold and his wife, Barbara, lived in older homes that required some fixing up and perhaps the addition of a new porch or deck. Gold enjoyed working on these projects in the evenings and on weekends to relax after his stressful job as a radio broadcaster and, later, TV executive. But the projects came to an abrupt end when their house burned to the ground in the devastating Southern California wildfires of 1993. After that, the Golds built and moved into their first new house.
“There was nothing to fix up in a new house,” Gold says, “so I decided to do the artsy things.”
His first project was a wooden 10-inch golf cart, bag and four clubs. He soon went on to larger pieces, like a motorcycle and a plane large enough for a toddler to ride in. Since moving to St. James Plantation in 2008, he has carved a variety of pieces, including trivets with different breeds of dogs, larger pieces with etchings of herons and palm trees, and a stunning sculpture of a family of dolphins set in a piece of driftwood that he brought with him from California. This piece is part of a three-month revolving collection of art that is displayed in the main foyer of the St. James Town Hall. But Josann Campanello, the town administrator, has somehow managed to keep that one piece from revolving for more than two years!
Through his talent for woodworking, Gold discovered the ancient art form of wood intarsia. Often used in furniture making, intarsia (based on the Latin word intersere, which means “to insert”) is the art of cutting out and combining individual wood inlays to form unique mosaic patterns. The practice originated with the Egyptians as early as the seventh century and eventually spread to Europe, where it was further developed in northern Italy in the 14th century and introduced to Germany and England in the late 16th and 17th centuries. Since the Industrial Revolution and the ensuing standardization and mass production, the extremely labor-intensive process of intarsia has been a lost art, except to a few artisans with large doses of time, talent, patience and creativity. Gold happens to be one of those people.
Gold can’t recall when or where he first read about intarsia art, but it immediately intrigued him and that is what he is focusing on now.
His pieces are increasingly complicated as he continues to hone his skills and perfect his technique. The piece he likes best is a lion’s head that is composed of about 150 pieces and took approximately 125 hours to make. “That is my favorite piece; I especially like the eyes,” he says. It won third place in the recent Brunswick County Silver Arts woodworking competition. Ron also took second place with his intarsia heron.
Gold uses several kinds of wood to get just the effect he is seeking. He primarily works with pine, mahogany, walnut, pecan and various maples and oaks. He uses a little ebony, but says, “It’s too expensive to use very much, so I admit I sometimes cheat and stain another wood to look like ebony.”
He uses a scrollsaw for the basic cutting and then refines the pieces with a router and a Dremel. He uses patterns purchased off the Internet for about half of his pieces. The rest are originals, usually constructed from a photograph that has been digitized and processed with software that converts it into a pattern, which is then sent to a printer and finally returned to Gold to use as a blueprint for his next project.
When asked how long it takes to craft a typical piece, he jokingly estimates “about two gallons of vodka.” Then he puts it this way, “If I were to add up the hours it takes and then cut the minimum wage in half, and forget about the material costs, I still couldn’t sell the pieces for that amount. I don’t do this to make money.”
Gold has done several pieces on commission and is delighted to try any idea that someone comes up with. His next project is his most challenging so far: He is going to attempt to craft children’s faces from a photograph. He has done a dog and a horse, each with a reasonable likeness, but he isn’t taking any bets on the children’s faces just yet.
The story of the Golds’ relocation from Southern California to southeast North Carolina provides another glimpse into the life and personality of this intriguing man. One day Barbara decided she was ready to give up their home on the ocean in Malibu because she had had it worrying about the California fires. Gold agreed because he was sure it would take so long to sell their home that she would give up on the idea. But the house sold in three weeks.
In deciding where to move next, Gold hung a very large map of the United States on the wall and told Barbara to throw a dart at it. They would consider moving to wherever it landed. Her first hit was Tulsa, Oklahoma. Gold vetoed that choice and told her to try again. The second time the dart landed squarely on Wilmington, N.C. So they flew east to check it out.
The Golds liked Wilmington, but not enough to move there. Then they took the Fort Fisher Ferry to Southport. And that was it. They loved the quaint village of Southport, met with a Realtor that afternoon and bought a spec home that was 85 percent complete in St. James Plantation.
They kept the dart, just in case, but it looks like they won’t need it.
“We really love it here,” says Gold.
Find Ron Gold’s Artwork
Ricky Evans Art Gallery, 211 N. Howe Street, Southport, (910) 457-1129
Artisans Gallery at the St. James Marina, St. James Plantation, (910) 253-0767
Sunset River Marketplace, 10283 Beach Drive, Calabash, (910) 575-5999
For more information or to find out about commissioning a piece, you can reach him by phone at (910) 202-4099 or by email at email@example.com