Walls Can Talk

By Kate Bordine

I recently attended SCAD, and focused my MFA Design Management thesis around the creative entrepreneur as a catalyst for revitalization in a post-industrial city. This topic brought me to conduct field research in Detroit, MI where I began documenting organizational triple bottom line approaches, and the individuals behind this movement. Common perceptions are that Detroit is a blight-ridden, urban city, yet when you delve deeper into its core you find change agents shouting from the rooftops about revitalization.

There is a strong network of community-oriented individuals who enticed me to move back to the rust belt after graduation. So, I soon embarked on one of the biggest challenges of my life; to construct a life in this great city.

In search of design efforts that considered social, economic, and environmental aspects within a local community, I found refuge at Ponyride, a creative incubator that uses an ‘all boats rise with the tide‘ rent subsidy. This was also a place where I could afford to rent space, and a place to collaborate with other socially-conscious artists. There are many entrepreneurs hard at work and sharing knowledge, resources inside its walls. Educational outreach is also a huge component of its success for the local community of Detroit, and the ripples from skill-sharing are what help make this place so unique.

I’ve always dabbled in metals and jewelry, selling my wares at craft and art fairs throughout Cleveland, and in boutiques in Savannah, GA. And I had an itch to continue my profitable hobby in Detroit. So, building a community metalsmith studio in a collective space seemed like a great next step. I found some friends and colleagues: Amy Weiks who studied her masters at Cranbook, and Gabriel Craig, a nationally renowned jewelry and performance artist. With my background in collaborative design we decided to team up to make this vision a reality…Smith Shop! (the Ponyride Metals Corral below was rendered by Gabriel Craig.

Founded in 2012, Smith Shop is a dynamic, craft-centric metalworking company based in Detroit. Smith Shop produces quality metalwork of all descriptions, specializing in the custom fabrication of gold, silver, copper, brass and steel while also producing limited-production wholesale runs ranging from jewelry to architectural hardware. Besides its manufacturing business, Smith Shop offers access to its metalworking facilities at Ponyride through classes, workshops, private lessons and studio rentals. We want to build the capacity to cover education, engagement, and help job creation in the Greater Detroit area. Below, the community bench is being built from reclaimed oak.

This brings me back to Savannah, where my Design for Sustainablity professor Scott Boylston, President of Emergent Structures, gave me access to a historic home off East Jones Street that was undergoing an interior deconstruction. One of the first things I noticed in the building were the nails strewn across the floor. And during an Emergent Structures “denailing” event of wood reclaimed from Savannah’s Strathmore Estates, over 50 volunteers salvaged cut nails and old wood. The story of this event can be found here

Emergent Structures was able to reclaim the wood from these homes which were originally built for Liberty Ship builders during World War II. While these ‘demountable’ homes were intended to be dismantled after the war, they instead were renamed renamed Strathmore Estates, shifted from property owner to property owner, and steadily fell into disrepair. More on this ‘American Story’ can be found here

This brings us to today (after quite around-about-story, and thank you for keeping up).

These cut nails have since made their way to the Smith Shop in Detroit. The concept that emerged from graduate school stuck, and these nails have been “upcycled” into objects for adornment. They are embossed with a stamp ‘SAV 1943’ that references the year the housing untis were originally constructed, and hints at the history behind each custom-made ring. The nails have been repurposed into rings, sized to fit, or placed on a necklace on a leather cord.

You can purchase these rings here

Other Important Links:
Smith Shop
EPIC Conference 2012

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