Dick Boak, Renaissance Man

by Cynthia Tintorri
September 11, 2009

There isn't much of a creative nature that Dick Boak hasn't done. Artist, writer, teacher, woodworker, poet, jewelry maker, geodesic dome builder, guitarmaker, designer, musician - he's worn all these hats, many of them simultaneously. And in the words of the Grateful Dead, what a long, strange trip it's been. 

Boak (far right) detailed the journey for a capacity crowd at Northampton Community College's Kiva Conference Center on Thursday, September 10, in a lecture given before the opening reception for his exhibit, "Where Ink Meets Wood: A Retrospective." The exhibit includes Boak's illustrations, woodworking and guitars. 

A childhood accident (playing with a machine spring that boinged into his right eye) and subsequent surgery left Boak with both eyes covered for days. When he finally regained his sight, he valued his vision as never before, and "really started looking at things around me." He began drawing cartoons and illustrations, often to illuminate the stories he wrote. 

While at Gettysburg College in the late '60s, Boak became enraptured with the counterculture, the architecture of Buckminster Fuller, and the Whole Earth Catalog,  and began building geodesic domes. Influenced by a Franz Kafka story, Boak built and locked himself in a cage "as a display for Parent's Weekend ... sort of performance art, although they didn't call it that back then." A standoff with his father ("I refused to cut my hair, and he refused to pay my tuition") led to Boak fleeing college in search of a creative utopia. 

Eventually Boak found himself in California, where he took up residence with Lou Gottlieb ("fresh from India with the Beatles") and other hippies at the infamous Morning Star Ranch commune. There Boak focused on drawing in what he calls his most creative period with respect to illustrations. He drew yantras (intricate geometric mandalas) and sometimes incorporated his poetry into them. When the commune fell apart, Boak spent time in Hollywood before eventually returning to Vermont, where he taught art for a while at Stowe College. He tried his hand at lathe turning and became a performing musician. 

Boak's long-standing gig with C.F. Martin & Co. in Nazareth began serendipitously in 1973 when he was caught raiding the guitar company's dumpster for wood scraps. He used the wood for his lathe turnings, and to build two guitars. "A man named Harvey came to the back door and asked what I was doing. I told him about my lathe turnings, and he asked to see what I was using the scraps for. I brought back the two guitars I had made, and Harvey took them inside to show them around." 

One of the people Harvey showed the guitars to was C.F. Martin III, grandfather of current Martin CEO Chris Martin. "Mr. Martin said I should apply for a job, so I came back the next day and went in to human resources." Boak was hired immediately as a design draftsman, and has held many different creative jobs during his 33 years at the guitar company.

 Currently, Boak is director of Martin's artist relations department, and has been involved in more than  140 signature guitar collaborations with performers like Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Mark Knopfler, Dave Matthews, John Mayer, Tom Petty, George Martin, and Crosby, Stills, Nash &Young. Boak wrote a book about the collaborations, "Martin Guitar Masterpieces." 

Free print with a donation to art scholarshipsAt the opening reception for his exhibit after the lecture, Boak entertained the crowd by playing guitar and singing with a few of his friends. He also gave away prints of his illustrations in exchange for a free-will donation to NCC's art scholarship program. 

"Where Ink Meets Wood" will run until October 18 at NCC's Gallery on the Main Campus in Communications Hall. Gallery hours are Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Watch and listen to Boak play at NCC's official YouTube channel.

To learn more about Dick Boak and see his work, visit

Read the Morning Call story about Boak here.



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