Friday, December 23, 2011

Metal: Industrial Heritage, Plasma Cutters and the Joy of Salvage...

Sure, Metal looks promising from the outside. You've got a graphically strong, rusted sign adorning the upper edge of an industrial brick building, a glass block window adding gloss, but not giving much away; and a single, strikingly realistic stalk of corn, surprisingly graceful given its medium. I had visited their web site* before popping in for a visit, but I was still a little unclear...Well, about a lot of things. 

On the most basic level, this was my first encounter with a metal design and fabrication studio. Services provided span a broad spectrum, from automobile restoration, architectural and sculptural design, to exploring the idea of an energy generating merry-go-round**, to physically realizing an individual's concept of a piece of furniture. The tools they use range from the same kind of blacksmith's tools that have been used for centuries to a state-of-the-art CNC Plasma cutter, which has a blue shield around it, so no one is blinded.***
On top of that, Metal, co-owned by Claudette Jocelyn Stern and John Daniel Walters, sports loftier (though not unrealistic) goals of becoming a hub, a coming together of inspiration, intellect and expertise...To that end, they envision holding workshops, concerts and other events in the combined studio and gallery space. Text from the about page of their website announces, 
"We are a team of finders and makers who reclaim and repurpose metal objects, utilizing traditional and digital processes to fashion new lives for them. We are a hub of educators, inquisitive minds and problem solvers; 
a community of environmentally conscious inventors, artists, and metal enthusiasts."
* Gorgeous design, tons of photos. Prepare to drool, ohhhh, my graphic design buddies...

** They functioned in a consulting capacity for an institution; they did not develop said merry-go-round.

*** I think that's the reason. I may have made that up. And yes, that dubious snippet is about all that I absorbed about the plasma cutter, even though John was nice enough to offer me an explanation. In one ear...

So, no wonder that once I opened the door, I was blown away by all the visual stimulation crammed into the gallery space. I couldn't stop taking photos. Vintage signs, old school lockers (...bleh), timeworn tools, sculptures of undergarments and tin men, jars of evil looking hooks, gas nozzles, tool boxes and cast metal sculptures of tool boxes...

Beyond the gallery space, the studio space opens up beautifully: light filled, exposed rafter beams. Wish I was able to get a good shot of that! Resident canine and goodwill ambassador, Rosie, trotted between the two spaces, reminding visitors that she was ready to be friends and that really, the best possible course of action would be to please throw her ball. 

Has YOUR trashcan been inspected by UL? Didn't think so.

Love him!
Interior of "Blue Truck," by Andrew John Cecil

"Support System" by Susan Byrnes

I liked this more before I learned it was a nasal speculum.

"Tetanus" jewelry line by Terri Sarris. Heh. I love the collective impact: I'd fancy it as a wall hanging.
This ball's not going to throw itself, people.
For more photos, check out the flickr set here. Or, you know, look at actual professional photos on their web site.

Arbor web delves into Metal here, as does Concentrate Media

Both owners bring rich backgrounds to their business. Claudette Jocelyn Stern plays in numerous media, including iron casting, painting, collage, film, writing and fiber arts. Works that held special appeal for me: Baker's Dozen and The Hub. I also love this rusted caged bottle set with heart lock. I *believe* this sculpture from the Metal site is hers, though it is not labeled as such. [Nope! John Walters did it]. Pandora's soda? Last extant six pack of Mead of the Gods?

In a huge renovation project, she also transformed her home into the Nautilus House, which was only the second house in Michigan to be awarded a Platinum Rating by the LEED green building system in 2009. 

The University of Michigan's Explore Magazine featured John Daniel Walters when he was pursuing his MFA there. His artistic globetrotting includes stints in Chile, Ecuador, the Easter Islands and Cuba. Of Walters, Endi Poskovic, associate professor of art and design, said: 

"I have never met a person who has had, on one hand, extremely acute knowledge of contemporary art and critical theory… but at the same time have this passion for machines and objects that he has actually built. It’s remarkable. I can’t change a tire. Are there people like him out there? I’m sure there are, but I have never encountered any.”
A couple shots from his MFA thesis installation here and here.

Phew! Well, that's about all for now. It will be interesting to see how Metal will grow itself and the community. And hey, 2012 could be the year YOU take up metalworking...


  1. When I was there I fell in love with that No Parking sign, and the steel pin lamp over the cash register not to mention the crimper which kept me nicely occupied while I was waiting for the ring up on Stella's coal shovel (which I've since come to find was probably a potato shovel). I also wanted that white enameled Garland (I think it was a Garland) stove.

  2. Ohhh, the stove WAS quite nice -- not sure how I missed taking a photo of that. I remember you mentioning the crimper. It would be kind of like owning a laminating press (press?), wouldn't it? We'd both be overusing, simply because we could."...Why is the grocery list all crinkly?"