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The Scene: Craft in Detroit

The Scene: Craft in Detroit

Seven local artists share the people and spaces that define this ever-transforming city.

The Scene: Craft in Detroit

Seven local artists share the people and spaces that define this ever-transforming city.
Summer 2023 issue of American Craft magazine
Nike of the Strait, a site-specific sculpture along the Detroit Riverwalk.

Scott Hocking created Nike of the Strait, a site-specific sculpture along the Detroit Riverwalk, using scrap metal buoys and channel markers. Photo by Scott Hocking, courtesy of the artist and David Klein Gallery, Detroit.

Detroit has risen, fallen, and risen again. Situated along the Detroit River, which connects Lake St. Clair to Lake Erie and creates a section of the US–Canada border, the city is known as the birthplace of Motown Records and Ford Motor Company, the home of Robert Graham’s Monument to Joe Louis bronze fist sculpture, and the site of the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in American history. Its population is a fraction of what it was in 1950.

Now, with myriad restoration efforts completed or underway—Ford is developing a “mobility innovation” campus in and around the iconic passenger rail hub Michigan Central Station—and a thriving craft art scene, Detroit appears to have found firm footing. “Ten years ago, the city was about to enter a municipal bankruptcy,” says metalsmith Gabriel Craig, a Detroit native who runs Smith Shop with his creative partner, Amy Weiks. “Today, the city is still culturally vibrant and enjoys incredible art, music, and dining. Some of the raw and rough creative scene has been polished as we have seen waves of development and gentrification. Alas, the days of $100 houses and $100-per-month studio rent are gone. The city has made major strides in developing its parks and greenways, particularly along the riverfront.”

“Detroit is the most underrated major city in the country,” Craig says. “We love it here.”

The city’s improvements have come at a cost. As Detroit real estate prices increased, it became tougher for artists to find space in which to work; some artists of long standing were displaced. “It’s very hard to find space in the city of Detroit,” says interdisciplinary artist and lifelong Detroiter Tiff Massey. “There’s so much politics to what’s going on here. There is inflation on pricing, speculation, the cannabis industry—all affecting the spaces that would be potentially desirable for artists.”

 Kyle Dubay in the Woodward Throwbacks woodshop.

Kyle Dubay in the Woodward Throwbacks woodshop. Photo by Darrel Ellis.

Retail manager at the Signal-Return shop stands behind the desk surrounded by art.

Taylor Jenkins, retail manager at the Signal-Return shop. Photo by Lynne Avadenka.

OUTPOST—POST’s mobile retail store and craft workshop—built from a converted ice cream truck parked on the street.

OUTPOST—POST’s mobile retail store and craft workshop—built from a converted ice cream truck. Photo by Wayne Maki.

Combine gentrification with complex city and county bureaucracies and you have a landscape that can be hard to navigate, says Massey. “We’re trying to adapt. However, this thing changes all the time. It’s definitely not the easiest place.” While a lot of things can turn you off about the city, says Massey, “Detroiters love Detroit. It’s a magical ass place.”

Over several days in early June, Detroit will host the Glass Art Society’s (GAS) annual conference, which will feature speakers, demonstrations, and a mobile hot shop from the Corning Museum of Glass. GAS, which is based in Seattle, timed the conference to coincide with the Michigan Glass Project festival, a raucous music, glass, and art event that raises money for arts curricula in Detroit public schools. A documentary about the project, called Art That Gives Back, will premier during the combined event, which is expected to draw thousands, including glassblowers from across the country.

“Detroit has a long and proud history as an industrial city and a transformative place,” says GAS’s executive director, Brandi Clark. “And in recent years, it has undergone a rebirth and growth as a hardworking city of creatives, innovators, and change-makers.”

“They have such a large flame-working community there,” Clark adds. “The Michigan Glass Project—we are so impressed with what they do for their local community. We feel so lucky to be working with them. They are one of the main reasons we chose Detroit.”

For American Craft’s first installment of The Scene, which looks at the craft landscape in a single city, we asked seven Detroit artists to share their perspectives on the place they call home. They described what’s most inspirational about Detroit, even including its suburbs and enclave cities such as Hamtramck; the best places to get supplies; where craft artists hang out; and the local artists they most admire. Clark provided picks, too, based on her glass-focused scouting trips. The result is a rich, if subjective, portrait of this complex, ever-changing metropolis.

—Jennifer Vogel

Note: The following lists of artists and craft-related spaces in Detroit are based on the recommendations of our contributors and are not comprehensive.


Visual artist, metalsmith

Zahra Almajidi

Portrait by Rebecca Frantz.

Almajidi has lived in Detroit for more than 20 years, since the age of 5. “The city and the art scene seem to go through constant change, and while there is always some art-related thing happening, we seem to have lost quite a few opportunities and spaces as well,” she says. “It’s important to acknowledge that gentrification has played a significant role in the city’s cultural shift. However, there are many people who are truly invested in the city, and many have continuously worked to foster a supportive space for people to make and share work. I’m constantly seeing new residency spaces, galleries, grant opportunities, and creative events popping up. There’s a lot of innovation among the local artist community, and a lot of people are making really exciting and impactful work.”

ARTISTS ALMAJIDI ADMIRES: “Lately, I’ve been most excited to engage with sculptor and metal fabricator Caroline del Giudice; jewelry maker, performance artist, and sculptor Lauren Kalman; and furniture maker, functional sculptor, and designer Aaron Blendowski. They’re all consistently experimenting with form, taking risks in their practice, and maintaining a high level of craftsmanship in whatever they make. They’re somehow doing all this while also working full-time jobs. And they’re just good people, so that’s a plus.” | @caorline | @laurenkalman | @aaronblendowski

Furniture designer

Schanck came to Detroit in 2007 to attend Cranbrook Academy of Art. In 2011, he moved to an eastside neighborhood known as Banglatown, which is home to many Bangladeshi immigrants. “When I first moved into the city, there were nearly no commercial galleries supporting the local scene—and the larger cultural institutions seemed willfully ignorant of the creative community in their own backyard,” Schanck says. “Despite this lack of support, the artists themselves endured, innovated, and persisted. This is a community of the most resourceful, committed, and tenacious artists I’ve ever met. If New York is about finding a place in a status-driven art world, in Detroit one will find an enduring belief in community, self-sufficiency, and in art as an end in itself.”

Chris Schanck with his art.

Chris Schanck among works including The Universe is Left-handed (hand in left foreground and white “totem” at back left), steel, polystyrene, aluminum foil, resin, glass; Fluorescence (chandelier), steel, sticks, found objects, polyurea, resin; and The Eye of the Little God
(mirror on back wall), steel, wood, polystyrene, polyurea, aluminum foil, resin. Photo courtesy of Friedman Benda and Chris Schanck.

Jack Craig portrait.

Jack Craig with pieces made from melted carpet in the Molded Carpet series, including Vegetable Sheep Molded Carpet Mirror, carpet, wood, glass, 57 x 96 x 10 in. Photo courtesy of the artist.

ARTISTS SCHANCK ADMIRES:Jack Craig is the hardest-working designer I know; his works are on another level, and he’s my most trusted confidant as well. The textile work of Carole Harris is beautifully layered and textured, from a master’s hand. Brian DuBois, a Detroit native and fellow Cranbrook alum, is best described as a techno craftsman for his love of music and his mastery on the keyboard or the table saw.” | @jackcraigstudio | @caroleharristextiles | @duboiscollection

Ceramist | @kimberly_lavonne

Kimberly LaVonne in her studio.

Kimberly LaVonne with recent works Still Life (left), ceramic, 12.25 x 12 x 7.5 in., and Double Neck Pitcher (right), ceramic, 21 x 11 x 10 in. Photo by Bruno Torres.

LaVonne moved to Detroit in 2020. “There is so much to explore and discover in Detroit,” she says. “The architecture alone stands out, from the Fisher Building to the Guardian Building downtown. I’ve also fallen in love with biking on the riverwalk, which runs from downtown toward Belle Isle and the Dequindre Cut. The amount and variety of work being made all over the city—its hubs of creativity are inviting and inspiring. The support for the arts also seems to be really strong.”

ARTISTS LAVONNE ADMIRES: Visual artist and metalsmith Zahra Almajidi; the Glastonbury Collective, founded by clay sculptor Sean VandenBrink and located in an old stone house; interdisciplinary artist and metalsmith Tiff Massey; sculptor Ebitenyefa Baralaye; furniture makers Bo Shepherd and Kyle Dubay of Woodward Throwbacks; the metalsmiths at Smith Shop; and furniture designer Chris Schanck.

@theglastonburycollective | @tiff_massey | @baralaye | @woodwardthrowbacks | @smithshopdetroit

Furniture designer, woodworker | @sandifer_studio

Sandifer grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and moved to Detroit in 2011 with his then creative partner Abir Ali. The two launched the furniture studio Ali Sandifer. That effort was put on hold, and Sandifer recently started his own studio. “Detroit is very big and very small at the same time,” he says. “It’s a sprawling place, but sparse. The resilience of Detroit is very true. It cultivates this kind of determination.”

“I really like Smith Shop. I love their work. I love the husband and wife team of Gabriel Craig and Amy Weiks. I love that they employ local people, too. They are true to their craft. I also like Donut Shop design,” which is run by Jake Saphier and Ian Klipa. | @smithshopdetroit | @donut_shop_

Portrait of Andre Sandifer.

Portrait by Ali Lapetina.

Bo Shepherd adds the final touches to a new piece in a woodshop.

Bo Shepherd adds the final touches to a new piece in the Woodward Throwbacks woodshop. Photo by Drake Harthun.

Image of fabricated steel railing.

Smith Shop railing, 2022, fabricated steel, 3 ft. x 35 linear ft. Photo courtesy of Smith Shop.

Sky view image of handcrafted table.

Andre Sandifer’s table, 2023, solid maple, 18 x 14 x 22 in., is manufactured by Dust & Ashes Productions, Benton Harbor, Michigan. Photo by Andre Sandifer.

Glass artist | @andykoupal

Portrait of Andy Koupal

Portrait by Ryan Thompson.

Born in Illinois, Koupal grew up in Metro Detroit. In 2012, after working elsewhere, he returned to the city. During Detroit’s hard times, he says, “There were a lot of generalizations being brushed by the media that I think missed the complexities of the city, its history, and its potential, which are important to plenty of individuals in the area experiencing these events differently. Relative to the art scene, it’s undeniable that these events put a magnifying glass on the city and coalesced the movement of people, studios, and galleries. Through it all, Detroit continues to be a vibrant, creative community. I feel very fortunate to be part of a close-knit local glass community. People in all mediums are more than willing to help out, answer questions, lend supplies in a pinch, bounce ideas, and overall support each other.”

ARTISTS KOUPAL ADMIRES: Interdisciplinary artist and metalsmith Tiff Massey; installation artist, photographer, and sculptor Scott Hocking; sculptor, glass artist, and furniture maker John Rizzo; ceramist Tom Phardel; multimedia artist Tyrrell Winston; and letterpress artist Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., proprietor of Kennedy Prints! | @tiff_massey | @scotthockingdetroit | @johnrizzoart | @tomphardel | @tyrrellwinston | @kennedyprints

3 pieces of blown and assembled glass.

Andy Koupal’s Tangerine and Sky Industrial Impression, 2022, blown and assembled glass, 15 x 2.5 x 2.5 in. (tallest piece). Photo by Andy Koupal.

Poplar, paint, mirrors, lacquer, and sparkles piece of art hanging on a wall.

John Rizzo’s Fragmented Self, 2022, poplar, paint, mirrors, lacquer, and sparkles, 50 x 28 x 16 in. Photo by John Rizzo.

Interdisciplinary artist, metalsmith | @tiff_massey

Tiff Massey wears a double strand handmade necklace.

Tiff Massey wears her Double Strand necklace, brass, 13 x 16 x 3.5 in., and various rings she designed and made. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Massey is a Detroit native. “I am from Detroit-Detroit,” she says. “What’s so interesting is, as Detroiters, we have been getting our ass beat by Detroit. But we are so loyal. We believe in it and know there is no other place like it. It’s really the people. I hear, ‘I went here and met these people and they are so nice.’ That’s how we are. The majority of us came from the South. We are a small country town, but it’s huge. The culture and the vibe—there is no beef here. It’s nothing but love in the arts community all the time.”

ARTISTS MASSEY ADMIRES:Graem Whyte is dope as hell. He makes sculptures. The first time I got introduced to his work, I was like ‘oh yeah.’ He and his wife are in Hamtramck; they started Popps Packing

They have a residency. They bought a couple of cribs. They are physically turning those places around. Also, Mario Moore, Jamea Richmond-Edwards, and Ijania Cortez. Rashaun Rucker. My friend Logan Merry, he’s a fabricator but he’s dope. Deep End Studio is his company. He’s dope and I love him. His spirit is sweet. I have love for a lot of artists. I just can’t do a dissertation on who the hell is dope. There is a lot of sauce in Detroit. It’s something in the water.”

@graemwhyte | @poppspacking | @mariomooreart | @jamearichmondedwards | @ijania | @ruckerarts | @deependstudio

Vintage furniture made of walnut, plexiglass, brass, plants, cast aluminum and light.

Graem Whyte, A Vintage Future, 2020, walnut, plexiglass, brass, plants, cast aluminium, light, 65 x 19 x 13 in. Photo by Scott Hocking.


Portrait of Gabriel Craig.

Portrait by Nate Johnson.

Craig is a fifth-generation Detroiter. He’s lived in the city his whole life except during a brief period in his 20s. “We’re a city built for two million people with less than half that population now,” Craig says. “We have all the arts and cultural institutions of a city several times our size but without the crowds and exorbitant cost of living.”

ARTISTS CRAIG ADMIRES: Hunt & Noyer Furniture, launched by Kyle Huntoon; the furniture design and build studio Donut Shop; Ceramics School, cofounded by Virginia Torrence and Henry Crissman; fashion accessory designer and maker Darrin Brouhard and his Daylight Factory; and bladesmith Niko Nicolaides. | @huntandnoyer | @donut_shop_ | @ceramicsschool | @dlfctry

Blown glass and steel that resembles clouds.

Kim Harty’s Cumulus, 2017, blown glass, steel, 8 x 12 x 20 ft., permanently installed at the Detroit Foundation Hotel. Stop Making Sense Plus One, a multi-artist exhibition curated by Harty, opens in June at the Janice Charach Gallery. Photo courtesy of the Detroit Foundation Hotel.

Executive Director of the Glass Art Society | @glassartsociety

Portrait of Brandi Clark.

Photo courtesy of Brandi Clark.

Clark lives and works in Prague, Czechia. GAS chose Detroit for its June conference because of “the strong sense of community, connection, and crossover that is so prevalent in the city. Detroit has a thriving arts scene, with a wide range of artists, musicians, and performers working in a variety of mediums and a host of strong arts and community organizations helping to support them. The stars aligned,” Clark says. “There was no way we couldn’t have our conference there.”

ARTISTS GAS RECOMMENDS: Axiom Glass, featuring the talents of Andrew and Robert Madvin; the glassblowing school Michigan Hot Glass Workshop; Epiphany Studios, run by April Wagner; Glass Academy, the studio of Michelle Plucinsky and Chris Nordin; glass artist Kim Harty; Drew Kups, cofounder of the Michigan Glass Project; Christian Hedman; Jeremy Ross; and Adam Thomas. | @axiomglass | @michiganhotglass | @epiphanyglass | @glassacademy
@bowlpusher | @313glass | @jrossglass | @adamthomasglass

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