Dale Rieke spent his high school years in Sarasota, but moved to San Diego to surf big waves, supporting his recreational habit by working on wooden sailboats. Woodworking became his new love, and more than three decades later, Rieke, who still looks like a free-spirited surfer with his longish hair, rangy build and ubiquitous flip flops, has created a following as an artistic urban lumber woodworker at his expansive Wood Street Studios.
Rieke turns salvaged wood into custom pieces of furniture, noted for their engineering and simplicity. Every piece is made from local trees, such as the Norfolk Island pine, live oak, West Indies mahogany, red camphor, kapok and monkeypod. The invasive Australian pine, which is being removed by the city of Sarasota, has also become part of his urban lumber stash. “People build homes and take down trees,” he says. “Trees die. Everything I use would have been mulch.”
Dining tables, coffee tables, credenzas and benches fill his showroom, and The Ringling has also become a destination for his craftsmanship. He’s donated beautiful rustic benches to the museum and also created the interior of the teahouse on the Ringling grounds, using river-recovered cypress. Some of his salvaged lumber has turned into sculpture, such as the large Australian pine artwork that stands at the entrance of the Ringling College library. The fact that all the wood is salvaged cuts down on the anguish of losing trees, he says. “I love the versatility of wood, and that with a little imagination, it can be a tabletop, a bench and artwork.”