March 1, 2013
METAL LLC of Ann Arbor, Mich., is not your typical custom fab shop. Along with taking on architectural fabrication jobs, the company also handles restoration of antique and contemporary vehicles, performs product research and design, and fabricates custom sculptural projects. If that weren't enough, METAL has plans to release its own line of custom tables and routinely opens its doors to the public for art showings and as a musical venue, truly pushing itself to the forefront of the Ann Arbor arts and entertainment scene.
By day it’s business as usual at METAL LLC’s Ann Arbor, Mich., fabrication facility. Sure, you might get a little dizzy walking through METAL’s in-house gallery showcasing repurposed and salvaged artistic items, or maybe you’ll become transfixed watching in-house blacksmith Andrew Kyte at work at the forge.
But by night with the industrial lights turned off and replaced with the accent lighting that travels down the trusses that support the facility’s incredible barrel ceiling, the space transforms into an entertainment venue with definite character.
Using a metalworking shop as an arts and entertainment venue may seem odd, but the mission behind METAL’s work seems to bring it all together nicely under one barrel roof, so to speak.
Co-founders John Daniel Walters and Claudette Jocelyn Stern first met at an annual iron workshop in New Mexico and quickly struck up a friendship. When Walters relocated to Ann Arbor to attend graduate school at the University of Michigan, Stern reached out. The two began collaborating on projects, which led to the desire to open a business.
Walters serves as designer and fabricator at METAL, while Stern is a designer and innovator. The two are flanked by Kyte, also a designer and in-house blacksmith, and Sarah Carroll, administrative and marketing director.
The concept of the shop that they created is broad, but one that serves as a platform for all things artistic, functional, and cultural. The common thread is metal, which is how the company got its name. METAL is a full-service design and fabrication studio that has the capability to work with clients on their architectural and sculptural metal needs from concept to install. The shop handles restoration of antique and contemporary vehicles, performs product research and design, and fabricates custom sculptural projects. If that weren’t enough, METAL recently unveiled its own line of custom tables. They also work with innovative metal coatings, whether anodization, powder coating, or any industrial coating or plating process as needed.
“As artisans, we developed a number of in-house patination processes that are quite unique to the finishing of metal. These are calcium- or chemical-based or green product-based, repurposed for metal finishing. It gives us the finish and the aesthetic that we typically turn out, which is the industrial postmodern,” Walters said.
Stern once described the company as “an alchemy of intentions,” meaning: “It can be all things.
An art gallery; a gallery of salvaged and repurposed goods; and a place where we can do everything we want to do in metal, from casting to designing and fabricating utilitarian and artful architectural goods. We just decided to give it a stab to see what we could create by doing all of the things that we loved and had skill doing.”
With the freedom of expression that the quartet brings to their daily work, it only made sense to open the facility’s doors to all forms of artistic expression and educated thought. Well, that and the fact that the space, built in 1924 is in its own right a work of art.
“It’s an old brick complex, and our portion has a beautiful trussed barrel roof. We redid the floors, took out the factory windows, and installed glass block so it’s light during the daytime,” Stern said.
The need for a little offbeat cultural emporium was apparent after a rather popular Ann Arbor music venue had closed down. But instead of looking at it as just a way to fill a void, Stern and Walters thought opening their doors to artists, musicians, and poets would be a great way to get the word out about what they do and what kind of entity METAL is.
“We also wanted to create a way for people to walk through our gallery—we want people to know that we’re not just a design and fabrication shop,” Stern explained.
The facility has hosted One Pause Poetry, musical performers, educational symposiums, various Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau events, and private parties such as wedding receptions and anniversary parties.
The facility can accommodate parties of roughly a couple hundred people during warm weather with the garage doors open, and about 100 people with the doors shut.
Start times for most events don’t interfere with daily work tasks, and if anything, METAL views playing host as having more positives than negatives.
“It’s been such a lovely benefit for us. We’ve gotten to hear a lot of world-renowned poets like Anne Waldman and Ken Mikolowski, and internationally known musicians like Emily Wells. The benefits definitely outweigh some of our grumblings when we’re sweeping up the floor or moving tables,” Stern said.
The FABRICATOR® is North America's leading magazine for the metal forming and fabricating industry. The magazine delivers the news, technical articles, and case histories that enable fabricators to do their jobs more efficiently. The FABRICATOR has served the industry since 1971. Print subscriptions are free to qualified persons in North America involved in metal forming and fabricating.