If you’re that person who thinks they don’t make things like they used to, then you must check out the goods from Detroit’s Smith Shop. From hollowware to architectural metalwork, it’s the opus of artisans who were trained as jewelers and toil as blacksmiths. Their work will last a lifetime — or maybe several.
Custom designed and fabricated in combinations of gold, copper, steel, bronze, iron, and other metals, Smith Shop’s exquisite functional and ornamental pieces are created by Gabriel Craig and his wife, Amy Weiks, together with a small staff of metalworkers.
The couple opened Smith Shop in 2012. They produce their ultra-high-end items in a bustling, noisy, machine-heavy shop outfitted with a super-hot forge oven, anvils, tools, and giant tongs hanging at stations around the 1,500-square-foot space.
Their one-of-a-kind and limited-production items run from $35 for hand-forged, tapered key rings to $1,800 for their signature copper-and-forged-steel five-piece serviceware set.
It’s an “almost obsessive design,” Craig says, pointing to his serving spoon’s seven handmade rivets that join the forged-steel handle to its copper scoop. Historically these types of implements only have two rivets, he explains, but his pretty copper rivets, arranged somewhat pyramidically, aren’t simply more aesthetically pleasing — they’re stronger. Other pieces, like the flatware, are beautiful, like fine pieces of jewelry.
Smith Shop is located in a celebrated 30,000-square-foot co-working space called Ponyride, founded by restaurateur Phil Cooley (Slows Bar BQ, Gold Cash Gold, et al.) in southwest Detroit’s Corktown. The lively mural-adorned building, once a printing facility for the auto industry, is a nonprofit low-rent incubator for artists, entrepreneurs, and makers, and is abuzz with all pursuits of creativity.
Craig and Weiks met at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, where they earned their BFAs. Both later received MFAs, as well (Craig’s is from Virginia Commonwealth University, while Weiks’ is from Cranbrook Academy of Art). He focuses on craft advocacy, writing, and metalsmithing; she’s rooted in photography, printmaking, metalsmithing, and domestic crafts. They began collaborating in 2007, did residences, exhibitions, and installations far and wide, and found out that a nomadic life wasn’t for them. “Art fairs don’t appeal to me,” Craig says.
As a result, Smith Shop was born with $3,000 and a dream.
“Amy’s the talent — I’m the tenacity,” says Craig, a proud fifth-generation Detroiter. As a firsthand witness to Detroit’s decline and slow resurgence, he sees artistic collaboration as the seed for the city’s continued upward trend. He believes in creating coalitions and building community with the local talent pool by offering classes (such as a recent hammering symposium), workshops, and internships for those who dare to learn the fiery art of metalsmithing. Smith Shop currently employs a shop manager, two junior metalsmiths, and a rotating intern.
The shop has made custom items large and small — a butter slicer for a Detroit tugboat captain, replacement bagpipe parts, belt buckles, architectural lighting — and tackled iron-work restoration for the El Moore Lodge, an 1898 boarding house turned upscale Euro-style bed-and-breakfast in Detroit’s Midtown.
As a craft activist, as he calls it, Craig is finding new markets nationally and internationally. His company was featured in this year’s Home, Lifestyle and Handmade portion of the NY NOW trade show at the Javits Center in New York, where it was included as part of the Detroit Creative Corridor’s “Design. Make. Detroit.” group, a trade group Craig co-founded in 2015 to collectively brand and promote Detroit-based craft businesses. The group has received support from the Detroit Creative Corridor Center and Creative Many Michigan to attend national trade shows. He also exhibited at the Paris expo, Maison & Objet, in September.
Smith Shop’s goods are available locally at their studio at 1401 Vermont, Detroit, 313-559-2237; smithshop.com; and at Detroit Mercantile in Eastern Market and Zieben Mare in Franklin. Ponyride’s Holiday Market runs Dec. 8-9.