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Metal

Maker Stories

Talking Purpose, Fun, and Sustainable Design with Fred Conlon

September 6, 2017

Photo by Nan Chalat Noaker/Park Record

Fun fact: Utahan Fred Conlon has been working with us here at UncommonGoods for over ten years, and in all that time, we’ve only mentioned him on the blog a teeny-tiny handful of times. But it’s 2017, and we’re saying, “No more.” It’s time to give Fred his due the best way we know how, and that’s with his very own maker story.

Raised in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Fred’s the son of two high school English teachers, which may at least help to explain how he wound up with a degree in Public Communication despite his ambition to open a pottery shop. After a brief tour as a ceramicist, Fred transformed his shop into the full-time metalworking studio where he now crafts punny paperweights and his signature Gnome-Be-Gones, both fixtures of our assortment here at UG for the better part of the past decade. Read on for a Q&A with Fred that touches on inspiration, sustainability, and what makes his job so special. (We also took a couple of moments to scour his Instagram, the evidence of which, too, lies below.)

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Maker Stories

Stories in Steel: Eric Gross’ Bookends

September 19, 2015

We all know that every good story has a beginning, middle, and end. Bookends on the other hand, are usually just what they sound like: two ends. Eric Gross’ collection is an exception. Eric’s bookends tell a story by starting with one form, letting the books they’re supporting serve as the climax, and then wrapping things up with the perfect happy ending.

It’s no coincidence that Eric’s designs seem to follow the structure of a story, since many of his pieces are actually inspired by the pages of books he’s read. “I like to let my imagination run wild on the themes I’ve just read about,” he told us in a quick Q&A about his work. Read on to find out more about Eric’s taste in literature, his passion for metalwork, and how his handmade silhouettes of animals and interesting objects become beautiful, sturdy bookends.

Eric Gross Bookends | UncommonGoods

 

In your maker story on our website, you mentioned that you grew up watching you father and grandfather work on machinery. How did this influence your decision to go into design, and specifically, to work with metal?

At a young age I was amazed that metal is both tough and durable but is also workable. Metals can be hammered, bent, formed, welded and molded to make any object. Dad would sketch the pieces he made prior to creating them and I loved the design and creativity that went into his work. When it came time for me to choose a career I realized that I loved the creative aspect of design, and chose to specialize in metal design.

You also said that you studied mechanical engineering in college. What made you take the leap and decide to use those skills to start a business producing your bookends?

After many years of designing industrial equipment and goods I found myself drawn to making little creative pieces in the shop in my spare time. Some of my coworkers mentioned that I should sell my creations. Once I discovered the handmade maker movement online I was hooked.

Eric Gross | UncommonGoods

How do you come up with ideas for your pieces? 

Most of my ideas come from books that I’ve read. I like fantasy and fiction, so I let my imagination run wild on the themes I’ve just read about. I like the bookends to tell a story themselves, just like the books they hold. You can use anything to hold up books, why not use bookends that are creative and enhance the beauty of your collection? Books are beautiful. Most people don’t read the same book more than once but they keep the books as a reminder of the voyage their imagination took while reading it. It’s sort of like why we take vacation photos, they are reminders of the places we’ve been.

Giraffe Family Bookends | UncommonGoods

What steps do you take to make each bookend?

The bookends are cut from steel. Then the cut pieces are ground, formed, welded, sanded, and finished in hammered black.

Do any of the designs you sell at UncommonGoods have a special meaning to you? Is there a set of  bookends that’s your favorite? 

Although it is one of my simpler designs, I think the Giraffe Family is my favorite. Being a parent myself I realize that once you have children the concept of self changes. I spend most of my time thinking about my children. I worry more about what they want and need, rather than myself.

See Eric's Collection | UncommonGoods

 

Maker Stories

This Just In-spiration: Meet Bud Scheffel

August 10, 2015

Our makers never fail to motivate us, encourage our creativity, and fill us with inspiration. So, when a new design enters our assortment, we’re always excited to learn more about the person behind the product.

What gets an artist going and keeps them creating is certainly worth sharing, and every great connection starts with a simple introduction. Meet Bud Scheffel, the maker behind our new Hummingbird Garden Mobile.

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When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I knew I wanted to be an artist when I was about 5 years old. I had a sketchbook in my back pocket for my entire childhood.

What was the most exciting thing about becoming a professional artist?
The most exciting thing about becoming a professional artist was to be able to raise a family on my income earned doing what I love to do more then anything else in the world.

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What does your typical day in the studio look like?
It’s chaotic but organized. I often have several sculptures that I’m working on simultaneously.

Is there a trinket, talisman, or other inspirational object you keep near? If so, what is it and what does it mean to you?
I have a book of Alexander Calder from 1956, that I am constantly inspired by. He championed the mobile concept decades earlier, and I am proud to be one of the very few experts in my field.

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Imagine you just showed your work to a kindergartner for the first time. What do you think they would say?
“Oh, that’s cool that it balances like that. How do you make something so beautiful? I love the colors.”

What quote or mantra keeps you motivated?
Keep reinventing yourself. You are able to become a much better artist if you constantly push yourself to go further. I have made over 20,000 designs over 25 years.

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What are your most essential tools?
Hand-held lasers, water jets, welders, shears, pliers, and grinders.

How has international travel influenced your artwork over the years?
While traveling around the world, my art has been influenced and reflective of the cultural differences of the native peoples including their fashion, color choices, architecture, infrastructure, landscape, and natural surroundings. For example, while living in Japan, I chose to create a line of metal mobiles that reflected the pagoda style architecture.

What are your other interests, and how have they been incorporated into your artwork?
I was interested all my life in math and physics, and have created work from the 1980s to current – very technical, complex structures incorporating these disciplines into true marvels of engineering that nobody has ever seen before.

Maker Stories

This Just In-spiration: Meet Sandra Bonazoli and Jim Dowd

June 15, 2015

Our makers never fail to motivate us, encourage our creativity, and fill us with inspiration. So, when a new design enters our assortment, we’re always excited to learn more about the person behind the product.

What gets an artist going and keeps them creating is certainly worth sharing, and every great connection starts with a simple introduction. Meet Sandra Bonazoli and Jim Dowd, designers of the Make a Wish Measuring Spoon Set.

Sandra Bonazoli | UncommonGoods

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

Even when I was very young, I had a love of drawing and making small things. I didn’t know it then, but I also loved beautiful old objects – I used to walk around my town and admire the architectural details on old homes. But I never really thought about being an artist or a craftsperson until I started to teach jewelry after college, and saw other people making a living with their artwork. Granted, their living may have been patched together, but they made a life for themselves being creative and doing what they loved. That had never occurred to me before that point, but that’s when I knew I wanted to be an artist/craftsperson.

What was the most exciting thing about becoming a professional artist?

To be honest, I wouldn’t really consider myself an artist. I don’t make work for exhibitions, galleries, or museums, or any other context other than people’s homes. It’s just not my intention. My intention (and my husband’s – we work together) is to make meaningful objects with an emphasis on function, that are professionally crafted, and as affordable as possible. Those things are usually not the criteria of an artist. I would say I’m very happy to be a designer and a craftsperson, particularly a metal-smith. The most exciting thing about what I do is seeing the physical manifestation of an idea. Every time something new comes out of the mold for the first time, I remember why I love doing this.

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What does your typical day in the studio look like?

Being self-employed means wearing many hats, so a typical day involves answering email, dealing with inventory, quality control, working on new designs, making inventory, and being frustrated with computers. If there is ever a dull moment, it doesn’t last long!

What are your most essential tools?

Unfortunately, the computer. Also my jeweler’s saw with 4/0 blades (they’re pretty teeny), No.4 cut half round and barrette shaped files, rubber cement, and medium silver solder.

Sandra Bonazoli and Jim Dowd | UncommonGoods

Is there a trinket, talisman, or other inspirational object you keep near? If so, what is it and what does it mean to you?

We make a silver pendant in the shape of an anchor. I wear mine almost every day. We made this pendant after spending a couple of weeks in the South of France, where anchor motifs are everywhere – for example, the brackets for hanging streetlights are in the shape of an anchor. They are a part of the architecture and landscape. We live in Rhode Island, and there are a lot of anchor motifs around here too. It connects me to where I live, as well as special places I’ve been. But most of all, I love the symbolism. Anchors have traditionally been a symbol of hope. I love the idea that raising anchor literally means that one of is off to a new port, a new journey, and a new adventure and symbolizes all the hope one has when going somewhere new.

Imagine you just showed your work to a kindergartner for the first time. What do you think they would say?

We do make some kids products, so I happen to know they like things that they feel are made especially for them. Like spoons made for little hands. Otherwise, I still think they might say our other products are special too.

What quote or mantra keeps you motivated?

Again, being self-employed means having to do a lot of things you don’t want to do, in order to keep doing what you love to do. Therefore it’s good to keep in mind: If you can’t get out of it – Get into it! Helps every time.

 

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