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Metal on Felch

Art and Craft on Felch

Salvage meets art at Metal.

by Tony McReynolds

From the June, 2011 issue

Claudette Jocelyn Stern thinks melting down scrap metal and recasting it into something useful is like alchemy: "It's the idea of turning base metals into gold," she says. "You're turning something of lesser value into something of value." In April, Stern and business partner John Walters opened Metal, a metal fabrication, sculpture, and design studio and gallery. It's on Felch in one end of an old brick industrial building in the shadow of the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks--a perfect location for people who turn the leavings of industry into art.

About a quarter of the 5,000-square-foot space is an art gallery; the rest is devoted to the design, fabrication, refurbishment, and repurposing of all things metal using a variety of tools--as advanced as high-tech instruments that work within a tolerance of .005 of an inch or as antiquated as anvils. With them, Stern and Walters can do everything from original metal sculpture and restoring classic sports cars to fabricating architectural pieces for commissioned and collaborative projects. It probably goes without saying that they made their own metal sign out front.

The gallery features a collection of vintage industrial and sculptural metal objects. Some of them are new creations; others are fashioned from found objects--and it's not always easy to tell the difference. An example: a cast iron sculpture of a battered red tool box that looks like the metal is peeling apart at the seams--priced at $13,000--is six feet away from a real beat-up tool box--priced at $23. Stern says, "I like the idea of juxtaposing actual, quote-unquote art with objects that we find."

Stern, in her fifties and a native Ann Arborite, says she's always had a love of all things metal and a passion for making art out of found objects. "I'm notorious for stopping dead on a sidewalk to pick up a rusty old washer," she laughs.

She met Walters, thirty, three years ago at a metalworking workshop in Tucumcari, New Mexico. Then a ceramics sculptor, he

...continued below...

was just learning how to cast metal. They reconnected when he enrolled as a grad student at the U-M School of Art and Design.

While Walters' primary artistic outlet is metal sculpture, Stern's work encompasses many disciplines, among them writing, painting, drawing, collage, filmmaking (Bilal's Stand, a short film she co-produced, was shown at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival). "I don't feel defined by necessarily being a writer and artist," Stern says, "but I do feel I kind of get a notion of how to pool resources, whether those are things or people, and that's my gift."

Both Walters and Stern seem to physically reflect their respective passions. Walters, who calls blacksmithing "the black arts," is solidly built with black hair and beard and a serious brow. Dressed in a well-worn black jean jacket, he looks--and there's no other word for it--capable. Stern, tall and slender with long, slightly frizzy red hair, eyes the color of sun-bleached blue jeans, and dressed in an orange sweater and pants she could have salvaged from a jumble of clothes on some 1970s laundry room floor, looks a little like a found object herself.

The partners want Metal to be a place where people can learn metalworking, practice their craft, offer workshops, and display and sell their work. They're actively seeking skilled artisans with ideas for commercially viable products they can bring to Metal, where other artisans like Walters can help bring those ideas to fruition. "We're willing to support a platform logistically for people who have a vested interest in a certain craft," Walters says--as long as that craft involves metalwork.

Stern says word about Metal is getting out. "People seem quite inspired by it, intrigued by it," she says. "People who are interested in artful furnishings and objects that have been salvaged or art itself. I really like that synergy between the thing that we might refer to as art and a thing that might be an object that is obviously not, and how they cross over."

Metal off Main, 220 Felch.

(800) 613-6385. Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-5 p.m Closed Sun.
    (end of article)

[Originally published in June, 2011.]


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