Design Independent Designers

Best New Makers

July 20, 2015
Dana Bechert Ceramics

Dana Bechert
Behind the intricately carved geometric patterns of Dana Bechert’s ceramic vessels lies an ongoing problem-solving process: “I create things as I develop a need for them,” says Bechert. From coffee pour-over funnels to planters and tea sets, Bechert’s interests in cooking and gardening find a functional expression in her ceramics. She credits her time at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and the broad range of classes she took there, with teaching her how different crafts can inform one another.

In her work, Bechert, who grew up in rural Connecticut and has a studio in Nottingham, Pennsylvania, draws from imagery as diverse as American pieced quilts, Native American Acoma Pueblo pottery, and historical textile prints and weavings, but her primary source of inspiration remains geometry as it appears in nature. “Most of my ceramic work is done outside, among the birds, bugs, and plants,” says Bechert. “I find my work looks best when it is paired with organic matter, and I feel like, in some small way, I am able to add value to these wild subjects.”

For an artist who prefers to work in nature, winter might be considered a quiet time to rest and regroup, but Bechert has, instead, been keeping busy with her next project, a camp and artist residency called Oak Hill Nature Center. “It will be focused on environmental and agricultural education, with traditional craft and culinary skill-building as part of the curriculum,” says Bechert. “I’m excited to see how my ceramics practice will fit into my pursuits there.”

Founding studio DAMM gave wife-and-husband team Brenda and Robert Zurn an opportunity they were more than happy to embrace—to work on new projects together. “From our very first apartment together, we have made our own furniture, including bookshelves, coffee tables, bed frames, and cabinets,” Brenda says. Based in St. Petersburg, Florida, the Zurns decided to launch their joint venture with a foray into lighting. “Lighting allows us to be sculptural in an open way,” says Robert. “The restrictions on lighting are minimal and, if done well, a fixture or a lamp can stand alone like a unique art object.”

From a Memphis-inspired table lamp to the pastel simplicity of their Hombre pendants, their products reveal a wide variety of influences and visual expressions. And although their ideas might start in different places—Robert being heavily inspired by concepts rooted in the art world and Brenda’s interest in history and storytelling—they share a strong preference for utilizing simple, honest materials.

In their work, the Zurns strive not to disguise the authentic nature of materials such as wood, brass, and glass. “These types of materials have a built-in history because people have interacted with them for millennia,” says Brenda. “They also have sense of authenticity that goes all the way through the object.” The duo is set to continue exploring the field of lighting design in developing its first floor lamp, but is also eager to expand its range through a line of home goods, which it plans to release later in the year.A sense of history, both in terms of its aesthetics and the exceptional level of craftsmanship, is a signature quality of Smith Shop’s work, particularly its elegant copper and steel serving ware. “We look backwards a lot, and try to create work that embraces tradition, but also breaks away from it a little bit,” says Craig. One of these historical points of reference is Detroit itself, its Art Deco heritage, and, even more so, its unwavering sense of entrepreneurship. “For a long time in Detroit, the currency was talking about doing things that would turn the city around, and eventually it became a city of doers,” Craig says. “We’re here, we’re committed, and we’re doing things.”

Studio Dunn Furniture
Studio Dunn
Faced with the difficulty of finding custom-design work in the throes of the economic downturn, Asher Dunn decided to create his own. “When the market crashed, we all looked at this uncertainty around us and were eager to regain a sense of stability in our lives,” Dunn says. “A huge amount of innovation and entrepreneurship came out of it because one way people recovered a sense of control, was by employing themselves.” For Dunn, the decision was fortunate—his first collection won him the Best New Designer award at the 2010 International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF).

That same year, Dunn founded his studio, which has since grown to employ seven other designers and makers. “I wanted to recreate the atmosphere that I found while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design,” says Dunn. “Our design process is very natural, but there’s always a lot of back and forth.” The work produced by the studio is highly varied, both visually and materially—from the warm, midcentury modern-inspired wooden furniture to raw industrial lighting—but is driven by Dunn’s desire to explore the capabilities and limitations of materials, as well as a commitment to using only sustainable materials.

As the studio’s repertoire is expanding, with forays into metalwork and soft goods, Dunn remains dedicated to carving out his own path. “There is a huge amount of value in entrepreneurship and being able to create your own success,” Dunn says. “It’s exciting to see that people are returning to creating things themselves, and that we are starting to reevaluate what it means to manufacture products in the United States.”

Smith Shop Detroit
Smith Shop
Detroit, once the national icon of mass manufacturing, is quickly becoming one of the most exciting incubators for young makers and craftspeople. Among these is Smith Shop, a metalworking studio founded in 2012 that has made a name for itself with a selection of ethically sourced and exquisitely crafted jewelry, kitchenware, and architectural hardware.

Smith Shop is based in Ponyride, a vibrant studio space and community of small creative businesses in the Corktown area that sprang up in an effort to revitalize the city. Spaces like Ponyride have been instrumental in organizing exchanges between makers and the general public—Smith Shop values workshops and lectures. “There’s a long history of craftspeople sharing what they do with people who want to learn,” says Gabriel Craig, one of the founders of Smith Shop. “Metalworking is primarily an oral tradition. It’s an opportunity for people to engage with their hands and learn how manufacturing happens.”

John Hogan GlassworkingJohn Hogan
Growing up in Toledo, Ohio, the birthplace of the Studio Glass movement, John Hogan had a long tradition to draw from. “I started blowing glass at the Toledo Museum of Art youth art program at 15 years old,” says Hogan. “That started me down the rabbit hole of glasswork.”

With the help of some of the country’s most influential glassmakers, Hogan immersed himself in the history of the craft, from the highly technical Italian approach to the more minimal method, focused on the optical qualities of glass, that he observed during a sojourn in the Czech Republic. Finally settling in Seattle, the current hub of the glass-blowing community, Hogan is now eager to help other artists and designers develop their own projects through Ballard Assembly, a consulting, prototyping, and production operation that he is developing.

Meanwhile, Hogan’s personal work, which manipulates glass for experiments with color and light, is garnering accolades in both commercial and gallery settings. And while influences on his work come from sources as diverse as electronic music and culinary art, he distills them all in crisp, simple forms that let the material shine through. “For me, the most challenging aspect of working with glass is staying out of its way,” Hogan says. “I admire artists and designers who choose to work in many materials. But, for me, the specific elements of a material as complex as glass can only be understood with immense amounts of time and focus.”

Originally appeared in Metropolis.

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