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artisans

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This shop is Fidler Furniture Company… headed up by Steven Mark Fidler.

“We do primarily custom metalwork. We do some woodwork where we have exotic woods we mix with our metalwork. Sometimes people want a table and they want a wood top, but a metal base and we can do both of those,” Fidler explained. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

It’s a two for one as we visit Gemini Handmade in downtown Grand Rapids as part of our Artisans of Michigan series.

The boutique-studio-workshop is home to two businesses. Jacob Vroon’s company is Harbinger Leather Design. Elyse Welcher owns Littlewings Designs.

The two artisans are married.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Eric Sooy is showing me some of his percussion skills on a snare drum. He made that drum. Sooy is the president and founder of Black Swamp Percussion in Zeeland, Michigan. His company makes percussion instruments that have made it to symphony concert halls, rock and roll stages, and recording studios.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

We’re outside the blacksmith shop of Joel Sanderson of Sanderson Iron near Quincy, Michigan. 

There's a steady putt-putt sound that comes from the heart of Sanderson Iron.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Since Michigan Radio started bringing you this series on Artisans of Michigan, we’ve been asking if there are any coopers in the state. We have learned of two of them: Lake Effect Cooperage in Traverse City and Kalamazoo Cooperage. We recently got to spend some time with Ben Aldrich, the owner of Kalamazoo Cooperage.

Alex Porbe / Incite Design

There are people in Michigan who are quietly making pieces of art with a purpose beyond art. 

One of them works in Detroit at a nondescript shop on Mack Avenue. Alex Porbe is with Incite Design, a  fabrication and custom design firm.

Porbe works with architects and project managers, working up designs to complement existing architecture or making a design statement.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

We travel the state to find the people who make useful things with their hands as part of our ongoing series: Artisans of Michigan. This time our stop is in a rural area near Rockford.

“I make brooms, all kinds, different sizes, styles, colors. I like to use recycled materials: branches, golf clubs, old harnesses, lots of different things I put my brooms on,” Henry Tschetter of Brooms by Henry said.

He learned his trade when he was very young.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

We like to hang out with people who make things by hand and then report back to you about their work. We call the series: Artisans of Michigan.

We visited Scared Crow Steamworks in Flint. Heather Wright is the designer of steampunk jewelry.

Lester Graham/Michigan Radio

We like to talk with people who make things we use. This time we make a stop in Jackson.

Chris Maples has been making ice fishing rods for a couple of decades. His company is called Frozen Puppy Custom Ice Rods

He designs the rod handles and hand ties everything. He makes the kind of rods that he likes, but he's open to what his customers want. Listen to his story above.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

We travel the state every once in a while for our Artisans of Michigan series, and this time we went to Flint.

C.H. Schultz & Sons has been repairing upholstery in cars nearly as long as cars have been around. Back in 1917, more than 100 years ago, Clyde H. Schultz was working at Buick and in the garage behind his house. A family business was born. Deborah Schultz-Pawloski is the third generation.

And all that car history is inspiration for her.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

If you spend much time in Detroit at all, you’ve likely seen this guy’s work.

Jordan Zielke is a sign painter with Motown Sign Company. But he didn’t start out doing that. He went to school for fine art. He left that behind and hasn’t looked back.

“I feel great about it,” he said, laughing.

Zielke said he had a hard time finding meaning and purpose in fine art. But, in commercial art and sign painting in particular, the purpose is clear and the rules are definite.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

We’re downstairs at Elderly Instruments in Lansing. There’s a lot of talent inside these walls. (See a previous Artisans of Michigan from Elderly here.)

“This place is like an incubator, really. You can bounce ideas off everybody. It’s pretty fertile ground in here and you get to see just the best examples of historic instruments and you get to see what the good stuff is,” Steve Olson said.

Under his Cone Tone company, Olson has designed a resonator guitar which can be played acoustically or plugged in.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Outside of Grand Ledge, at the end of a long driveway tucked away among the trees, we found a house and a large steel barn, the workshop of our latest featured artisan, Allen Deming of Mackinaw Watercraft.

He’s been building monocoque strip built boats as a full-time pursuit for ten years. Monocoque strip built is basically a single hull canoe or a kayak or other vessel made from strips of wood glued together and then sealed with fiberglass and epoxy.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Earlier this year, Stateside traveled to Plymouth to visit Planet Marimba. That’s the workshop of Matt Kazmierski. It’s actually the garage at his home. When we arrived, he was working on a practice marimba which basically is a scaled back marimba with no resonator which makes it quieter.

If you’re a college music student, getting into a studio to practice can be a challenge. But, if you’ve got a practice marimba, you can practice at home and not disturb the neighbors.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

When we talked with Babacar Lo of the Wicker Shop, the weather was still warm and Lo was in his backyard in Detroit, working. Under a tent and surrounded by potted plants, he was repairing rattan and wicker furniture, a skill he first encountered in his home country of Senegal.

“I did a little bit of weaving, making rattan and bamboo furniture in Africa just in my spare time,” Lo said.

Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

We travel the state to talk to people who make beautiful and useful things. We call the series “Artisans of Michigan.”

We’re visiting with Ed Fedewa. He plays the bass in the Lansing Symphony Orchestra. He also plays in jazz ensembles and repairs bass instruments for players from all over. But that’s not why we’re at his house, we wanted to talk to him about the double bass he built.

two tiger shaped robot lamps
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Cre Fuller was already at work in the garage behind his Ypsilanti house when I arrived. I had seen photos of his work online, but I was not quite ready for the display set up in the garage. It’s great eye candy. 

"I make robot-inspired sculptures. You know, I try to make them look like vintage robots from the future," Fuller said, glancing around at probably 40 of his creations in the workspace. He says he usually has a few more than that on hand.

picture of kelly church holding cradle board
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Soon, the entire park-like area we’re in will echo with the sound of pounding, metal against wood. It’s nearly a ringing or gong-like sound.

But first, Jeff Strand strips the bark from a black ash tree log. Then he takes out a knife and scores the end of it, a sort of pie wedge cut.

“So that the undergrowth rings have relief, so they’ll come up out of it as I’m crushing the growth rings. The ax is for crushing the fibers in between the growth rings and when you do that, they release,” Strand explains.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

We've been thinking about the kind of people you might like to meet. We talk with a lot of authors, musicians, politicians and policy wonks. But, what about artisans? They're the people who use their hands and hearts to build things that we use.

The next stop in our “Artisans of Michigan” series is Zimnicki Guitars in Allen Park, Michigan.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Hope Carried is the small company Brea Albulov created. It all started when she wanted a ring-sling baby carrier, but couldn't afford one. She decided she could sew one. She used a sewing machine her grandmother gave her.

She loved her baby carrier.

“It created this really comfortable, customizable, easy-to-adjust type of baby carrier,” Albulov said.

She said she also loved that the ring-sling carrier allowed her to discretely nurse wherever she happened to be.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Stateside's most recent stop in its "Artisans of Michigan" series brought us not too far from Kalamazoo, where we visited Paul Rutgers of Rutgers Wooden Spoon and Utensil Company.

Rutgers did not start out with a passion for carving spoons and ladles. He worked in construction, laying tile. Then the Great Recession hit and work dried up. Money was tight and he thought instead of buying gifts for family, he’d make some wooden spoons for them. They were a hit. His friends liked them and wanted Rutgers to them some spoons, too. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Kate Lewis is adding to a big plastic bag of clay balls before she begins work at her pottery wheel.

Dennis Potter holding up a fish, standing in the Au Sable River
Courtesy: Dennis Potter

  

Dennis Potter is still doing what he discovered he loved in 1977. He ties flies for fly fishing. He says he still remembers tying his first one.

“To take that fly that I tied – I can show you within six inches on a log where I caught my first trout on the Au Sable River almost 40 years ago,” Potter said.

Dennis Potter was hooked.

He took a fly-tying class, but he says his real education came from being fortunate enough to know a lot of good fly tyers.

He studied their patterns and techniques. He also studied the insects fish prey upon.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This week, Artisans of Michigan stops in southwest Detroit, at the Diseños Ornamental Iron company.

In the shop, people are welding fences, bending, hammering orange hot – you know, even hotter than red hot – lengths of steel into ornamental scrolls. Others are grinding down welds, smoothing it out to make it look good, and prepping the sculpted steel for powder coating.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The next stop in our Artisans of Michigan series is on a residential street in Highland Park, a city that’s within the City of Detroit.

Celeste Smith is using a small hammer to tack down fabric that’s been soaked in a stiffening agent. She’s making a hat. A fancy one for ladies planning to attend a big hat-wearing event.

“I’m getting ready for the Derby,” she says. Smith has been up all night to keep up with demand. “They’re having the Detroit Derby Day here and I also have some clients going to Louisville,” she said. Big fancy hats are a tradition at the Kentucky Derby.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Scott Smith Pipe Organs in Lansing repairs, restores, installs, and builds pipe organs. However, Scott Smith says his profession causes confusion for some people, such as a guy he was talking to at a party.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

For several months now, we’ve been traveling around the state, talking to people who make useful things with their hands. We’re calling the series Artisans of Michigan.

This time, we found ourselves in Tecumseh, in Mike Thomsen’s garage. Some people call him “Canoe Mike” because, among other things, he makes wood canoes.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Fritz Swanson is a writer. But he says even when he was little, writing alone just wasn’t the end of it. It had to be printed. It had to be a book.

“Writing the story and then making the way that it’s communicated seemed essential to me, seemed all to be part of the same game,” he explained.

When his dad took him along to help a friend fix a tractor, he found something that changed his life.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

We headed to the city of Monroe in the southeast corner of the state for our latest Artisans of Michigan. We visited Michigan Musical Instrument Service. Kevin Powers has been repairing instruments there since 1987.

“I do most of the work for the Detroit symphony, all the brass players, the Toledo symphony, some of the guys from Cleveland. Those would be my occasional clients. My everyday ones are the school kids that come in with a dent in the trumpet. That’s who my normal customers are,” Powers

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

We live in a throw-away society. Things are made cheaply and when we’re finished with them, we toss them out. That goes for furniture too. People put couches out on the curb. In college towns such as Ann Arbor, at the end of the academic year, there are lots of couches at the curb. 

We used to re-upholster furniture. In fact, some people still do. And in this installment in our series, “Artisans of Michigan” we visit an upholsterer.

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