“The thing about fads is that they’ll come and go,” says L.A.-via-Brooklyn jewelry maker Rich Sandomeno. “But I’m into shit that’s gonna last forever. Even the work boots I own have lasted me 15 years.”
Whether it’s footwear, the engines he rebuilt during his former career as an industrial diesel mechanic, his handmade Spragwerks jewelry line, or his extensive tattoo collection, Sandomeno knows a thing or two about what’s built to last—a sensibility that was forged early on by his blue-collar upbringing. It was among the postindustrial landscape of northeast New Jersey that, as a teenager, the creative but unfocused Sandomeno stifled his artistic longings and instead followed his father into the Local 15C Union of Operating Engineers. But after years spent wrenching on fire trucks, police boats, and cranes, he couldn’t kick the creative jones, and he finally enrolled in jewelry-making night classes at the School of Visual Arts.
Sandomeno says all his years spent suppressing creativity were “a pressure cooker,” but once he discovered his passion for jewelry making, the lid blew off. “I had to engage that part of my life,” he says. Sandomeno immediately began creating jewelry that borrowed from the rugged imagery of his day job. “I started doing stuff like taking blown piston pieces from engines and setting them in rings,” he says of his early designs.
Already quite inked—his first piece, a grim reaper, appeared on his shoulder just two days after his 18th birthday—Sandomeno found that the tattoo scene was a fertile environment for his budding jewelry business. In particular, Sandomeno credits tattoo fixture Shotsie Gorman with playing an integral part in the development of Spragwerks. “He gave me a little corner of his booth at NYC Tattoo Convention around 2001,” says Sandomeno. “A lot of my connections came from that one show.”
Gorman also gave Sandomeno some of his most prized ink, namely his Indonesian dragon and Balinese mask left sleeve. The rest of Sandomeno’s upper body boasts showcase work like the torso-crossing double-snake design by East River Tattoo owner Duke Riley, and a piece with a raven and human skull by New York Adorned’s Thomas Hooper. But the tattoo that’s closest to Sandomeno’s heart, literally and figuratively, is his chest piece. For the portrait of St. Gerard—a tribute to Sandomeno’s late grandfather—he sat with Michelle Tarantelli of Saved Tattoo. When Sandomeno’s grandmother passed, Craig Jackman from American Electric Tattoo added a ring of garlic to complete the portrait.
Since Sandomeno left Brooklyn and moved to Echo Park over two years ago, Spragwerks has grown considerably, a trend he hopes will continue with its new line of handmade leather wallets, tool pouches, and shoulder bags inspired by World War II military-issue goods. On the tattoo front, Sandomeno is planning a giant rat back piece with Riley. “I am both repulsed and obsessed with rats. They’re dirty, live underground, and are amazingly resourceful … I guess maybe I can relate a little to the rat,” he laughs.