By Wm. Shawn Weigel
When artist Ricky Giacco talks about his “green” planters, he isn’t referring to the color.
Instead, the Delaware native, who currently houses his eco-friendly NativeCast studio and showroom in Chadds Ford, is talking about the contents of his cast stone pots, vases and other pieces.
Giacco uses local materials such as seashells and pine cones and needles as an aggregate for his creations, rather than using stone or gravel as is used to bond commercial concrete.
“I source the shells from Lewis, Delaware. I source the pine material from Wilmington, the sand comes from Delaware, the concrete from Keystone in Pennsylvania,” he said.
He admits it’s an unconventional approach, with most concrete being composed of only sand and rock.
“What I’ve done is take out the rocks, which are traditionally one of the heavier elements,” Giacco said. “And I’ve replaced it with all this different material to lighten the mix and to also use it as a place to put these different natural and recycled materials, to create a better planting environment for the containers and ultimately the plants that are going to go in them.”
Founded in April 2010, NativeCast is essentially Giacco and an assistant working in his solitary studio off Fairville Road in Chadds Ford, tucked away down a curvy road at the Chadds Ford Industrial Park.
Each piece produced at NativeCast is hand-mixed and hand poured, created from custom designed molds that reflect Giacco’s love of both the materials and the natural environment that inspires them.
Each piece also has a different ratio of those different elements that go into the concrete mix, Giacco said, to make them work structurally.
“We are reducing the strength of the concrete by incorporating all of these different materials, as opposed to a traditional aggregate,” he said.
The eco-friendly angle of his products is reflected by the 31-year-old Giacco’s attitude towards the world, taking his inspiration from nature as much as from the architectural world of concrete and steel.
He’s also inspired by what he’s seen other artists do with recycled materials, and with what he’s seen within the commercial world turning towards a sustainable model as well.
“I think that the garden industry is getting there also,” Giacco said. “I think it’s been a little slower getting there, for whatever reason.”
Regarding how his pieces are produced, Giacco said that although they are created from molds and are uniform, each piece has enough hands-on production so as to be one-of-a-kind pieces of functional art.
Giacco’s most popular product, however, is one that puts the creativity in the buyer’s hands.
NativeCast’s “cast your own” kits come with everything you need to make your own tiny eco-friendly planter, complete with the seeds and the dirt, with the box itself utilized as the mold.
“It’s very much the same way we cast our pieces, but simplified,” Giacco said of the process. “And smaller.”
What eventually became his business started out as a hobby, with Giacco attending shows with his original pieces where he would encounter people who inquired as to how they could make their own sustainable pieces.
“I started off selling just a mold, which was roughly four pieces of Styrofoam, and I really didn’t’ come back to this until a little over a year ago,” he said of his home kids. “And they sold like crazy.”
Giacco said that while the large majority of his customers are women, gardeners and eco-friendly folks in general are finding – and buying – his sustainable products.
“I would say a large percentage of them are environmentally friendly,” he said. “A lot of them are technologically in tune, so they know how to use a computer – we do a lot of business trough our website. It’s a different group, depending on what they’re buying; the containers are more a specialized audience that are looking for something unique. But the kits go for all ages.”
With a background in furniture design, Giacco takes his inspiration from other furniture designers, as well as the architects who design their buildings using concrete.
“My use with concrete, I wanted to make with architectural aspects,” he said. “I kind of like the modern movement. “Specifically, I liked how they were using these wood molds to create these really textured pieces of concrete – usually walls, but really, in a lot of different applications.”
His inspiration also comes from the fine arts, after having spent some time at the Art Students League of New York, studying fine arts and the human form.
“And I love Chadds Ford because there’s a great art history here,” he said. “Sometimes when inspiration runs low, you can run over to the Brandywine Museum, or really anywhere in Philadelphia and Wilmington. So I find this to be a very inspiring place.”
To learn more about NativeCast, visit www.nativecast.com.