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Artisan of Michigan

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

 

 

Today on Stateside, a Republican proposal to fix Michigan’s roads is circulating in Lansing that wouldn't raise taxes. Plus a look at avian botulism, a disease that’s killing waterfowl across the Great Lakes.

Courtesy: Pewabic

The famous pottery, Pewabic, has been doing much the same thing it has done since the very early part of the 20th century, and using some of the same equipment and molds for its tiles and pottery.

"Pewabic was founded in 1903 by Mary Chase Perry (later named Mary Chase Perry Stratton) who was an artist and became really well known as a China painter. She would paint, overglaze enamels on French China and would teach about it and write about it," explained Steve McBride, Executive Director of Pewabic.

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April Wagner is a glass blower. She has a line of art under her name, but she also makes beautiful and useful things under the Epiphany Glass name. I asked her to describe her work for someone who has never seen it.

Courtesy: Rick Hale, Clockwork

Clockwright's Rick Hale is making clocks unlike any you’ve seen before. It’s a piece of sculpture in motion made of Michigan hardwoods.

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The first thing you hear is the sound of the blacksmith pumping the bellows to make the fire in the forge hotter.

We’re at the Delano Homestead at the Kalamazoo Nature Center because there’s a small shed where a volunteer shows visitors how a homestead blacksmith might work. But he’s better known for what he forges. His name is Gabriel Paavola.

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Megan Williams is a member of a vibrant community of people in Grand Rapids making all kinds of things. Williams works in textiles.  

“Textiles to me is anything with fabric, and I named my company Adventure Textiles because it's whatever I'm experimenting with in textiles," Williams said, adding, "There's so many things to experiment with in the textile category. So I started off with dyeing and that quickly moved to weaving and spinning and felting and everything together. And combining them is what I love to do most.”

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In a nondescript building in Marshall, Derek Smith is reaming a hole to fit a tuning key into head of a mandolin. That sound is a squeaky and a little irritating. 

It wasn't long before I asked Smith if he could create a different sound. I asked him to play something on one of the mandolins in the shop, a much better sound.

Smith and the rest of the team at Northfield Mandolins make high-end instruments. And the demand for the mandolins is brisk.

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Tom Fuleky is showing me some of his work. He’s a stonemason and he’s been at it for nearly 50 years.

“And it took me 30 to really figure it out. And I know it sounds crazy, but once I figured it out, oh my god, it wasn't as frustrating,” he says.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

It's early in the morning in the shop of Johnson’s Sporting Goods in Adrian. Steven Durren is using a rasp to form a rifle stock. He makes custom firearms, mostly early American style from the Civil War to WWI. They’re not exact reproductions, but in the style of those single shot and bolt action rifles.

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Sometimes your plans get disrupted. Sometimes you take a leap of faith.

That’s the story of David Sutherland.

He started as a musician.

“Years after I had finished a PhD in musicology at the University of Michigan and had taught for four years, I couldn’t get a job. And I decided, well, hey, teaching didn't work out so well," he said as he sat at a harpsichord he built.

It's been an interesting journey since.

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David Zaret builds cabinetry for kitchens, but he started out as a software engineer.

“It got to the point where I just couldn’t stare at a screen anymore after 20 some years of doing it. And though I still engineering software and I’m still involved in it, day by day I have to do a physical build rather than a virtual build,” Zaret explained.

When he says physical, he really means it.

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Mike Cameron and Michael Konas are the co-founders and creative forces behind Dog Might Games. 

If you visit their woodshop, you’ll first be greeted by a dog. He’s a rescue.

Dog Might Games says it doesn’t have customers; it has fans. The fans named the dog “Sawdust.”

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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.

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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 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 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

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.

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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.

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.

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