July 05, 2006

East Hampton's Keeper Of Time

Ten years ago, 74 year old Harold Dominy revived a family tradition, one that had fallen victim to the mechanized might of The Industrial Revolution. He began making clocks.

The Dominy name has long been associated with clocks; the family of craftsmen arrived in East Hampton in 1669, just 20 years after the town was first settled. The Dominys, beginning with Nathaniel Dominy III (1714-1778), crafted clocks, furniture and even coffins for the people of East Hampton. "They were the only village furniture makers and clockmakers. Every village and town had one," Harold Dominy explained.

Nathaniel Dominy IV (1737-1812), Nathaniel V (1770-1852), and Felix Dominy (1800-1868), carried on what Nathaniel III had begun, but as the years passed, the family shop couldn't compete with the mass production capabilities of mechanized factories. "The Industrial Revolution put them out of business," Dominy said.

Now 84 years old, Dominy, a retired plumber, began making clocks and wooden furniture as a way to honor his family's past, and its present. His clocks represent "a piece of old East Hampton," he said.

He doesn't base his designs on those of his ancestors — in fact, he professes not to care for the traditional Dominy look. "They're very narrow. They were made to tell time, that's all," Dominy said.

His East Hampton home is filled with his designs, from compact tissue-box style clocks to the elegant five-foot tall grandfather clock that stands in his kitchen. He uses a wide variety of woods in his creations; the door to the pendulum box in the grandfather clock is made out of zebra wood, giving the square door the illusion of curves.

He makes his clocks in a basement shop, amidst tables full of tools and stacks of wood along the walls. One of Dominy's designs bridges the centuries separating him from his clockmaking ancestors. An amateur Ham radio operator since 1939, he came across some computer circuit boards while he was browsing in an electronic shop. He glued a clock face to the circuit board and built a wood casing — a Dominy clock for the 21st century.

Physical pieces of East Hampton are included in some of Dominy's works; wood from the elm tree that stood in front of the East Hampton Historical Society found its way into several of his clocks. Dominy took wood scrap from Home Sweet Home when the museum was remodeled "just to say we got a piece of Home Sweet Home," he explained. The handle of a clam basket Dominy made is composed of a gnarled vine he came across in an East Hampton cemetery.

When this clockmaker is working, however, time is not of the essence. "I don't keep time. If I kept the time I wouldn't be making any of it," Dominy said.

He estimates that he has made between 30 and 40 clocks; many are in the hands of family members. "All the kids have them, and all their friends have them," he said. He has also made clocks for a number of East Hampton churches, and is in the process of creating one for The Jewish Center in East Hampton. When Dominy makes a clock for a church, he includes a letter explaining the piece's raison d'etre.

"These clocks," he writes, "are in memory of my mother Elizabeth Dominy and Erastus (Rat) Dominy and all the Dominys before him who gave us our mills, furniture, clocks, coffins for our families, [and] plumbing work for three generations. I am the last male Dominy living in East Hampton. And I'm the only one who can make a Dominy clock."

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