Walking up to Richard Dunbrack’s house and workshop, time smacks you in the face and then comes back for seconds.
First you encounter the whimsical clocks in the back of his pickup truck. They are a lively collection of curves and shapes, a burst of color for the eyes like a Fourth of July firework lighting a dark sky. These are not your grandfather’s grandfather clocks.
Then you see the massive clock face on the gable side of the house made from repurposed wood flooring. It’s a ticktock talking point — its long arms moving with precision through a mechanism hidden in the wall of Mr. Dunbrack’s master bedroom and tied to a satellite.
“A woman stopped one day while I was painting it,” Mr. Dunbrack said. “She said, ‘You’re not taking that down, are you? My kids learned to tell time using that clock.’”
Inside his workshop, which has a sign over it called Dunbrack’s Gallery, you’re taken back in time — antique toy cars and trucks spread across shelves, timeworn boards in a rainbow of colors, and a stack of metal from farm equipment and rusted tools in what looks like a dangerous heap on the floor.
Oh yeah, and clock faces, lots and lots of clock faces.
Mr. Dunbrack studied engineering, he’s a licensed pilot, and he’s dabbled in selling real estate.
But most days you’ll find him in his barn crafting materials recycled from old barns, federal buildings, and yard sales into his unusual grandfather clocks, coffee tables, cupboards, and liquor cabinets.
“It’s all found objects,” Mr. Dunbrack said pointing to one of his creations that appears to be a king’s crown — a hollowed-out building column painted in soft greens and golds with a crown made from the points of a farmer’s tool.
“It looks like a mess,” he says letting his eyes move across the studio, “but I know where everything is.”
Mr. Dunbrack is the owner of the Thieving Magpie, a name he derived from the bird’s propensity to covet things and bring them back to its nest. “These are the things I covet, and you can see what comes out of my nest,” he said.
When a barn is about to be razed or an old garage meets the wrecking ball, you’re liable to find Mr. Dunbrack picking through the rubble scoring artifacts for his next creation.
In the past few weeks, Mr. Dunbrack’s been creating a bit of a scene as he cruises the Island with four of his creations in the back of his pickup truck.
“I’m meeting a lot of people,” he said on a recent afternoon in Edgartown. “They say, ‘You’re from the Island? How do I not know about you?’ I keep a low profile.”
It may look like a planned advertisement for his products, but he says he was just looking to shake the sawdust and pollen off the clocks before they’re shipped off to customers.
Mr. Dunbrack is the father of two adult daughters — Caitlin, who lives in northern California, and Sydney, a landscaper and artist who lives with him in Oak Bluffs.
He decided to give up being a pilot when his daughters were younger in order to spend time raising them as a single father. “A flying career isn’t a great career if you want to see your kids grow up,” he said.
Mr. Dunbrack originally opened his shop in Concord, but moved to the Vineyard full-time in 2008. The house and workshop are tucked away on a side street not far from Island Alpaca. (He shows by appointment only.)
Mr. Dunbrack creates 80 to 100 original pieces per year, 60 in a slow year when his knees ache from his early days playing hockey. He sells them to galleries in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, as well as customers who reach him through his Facebook page. He also has a lot of repeat customers who commission works like the “Bottoms up” liquor cabinet, which includes oars and the bottom of a 1920s harbor boat. (Yes, he names his creations, and they are almost always puns.)
He counts among his clients members of the Philadelphia Flyers, the NHL commissioner, and Roger Berkowicz of Legal Seafood, whose wife once called him back to replace clockworks that malfunctioned. (While his clocks are repurposed materials, the clockworks are always new, he said.) “It’s a good feeling that someone at the top of their craft, in my opinion, is showing that they have an appreciation for my craft,” he said.
And he doesn’t just do this for others. Inside his house, you’ll find a TV cabinet with old shutters for doors, a kitchen table that has an old sled for a base, and an old Tilt-a-Whirl car on his deck that is playing the role of planter.
Designing and crafting objects with found materials gives Mr. Dunbrack a good feeling, and he enjoys the feedback from customers, many of them repeat buyers: “One person told me the piece she bought still makes her smile every morning.”
His coffee tables sell for $800 to $1,200; clocks range in price from $2,400 to $3,200; and cupboards, because they involve a lot of woodwork, are $3,200 to $4,200. He’s even been commissioned to do whole kitchens, he said.
“I’m just an adult who plays like a kid and builds in a tree fort all day,” he said.
Mr. Dunbrack is toying with offering a workshop. Not that he could teach people what he does, because there is no sketchbook or guidebook to follow — everything is an original plucked from his inner vision. But for a moment in time, he could help them use their own imaginations and let them run wild.
“I’ve had a lot of clientele who have had fulfilling careers, but have never had a creative outlet,” he says, noting how that once felt for him as he worked as a pilot for a Department of Defense contractor. “I’m not going to teach them how to do this, but help them execute a vision without cutting off a finger with a bandsaw.”