Artisans compete in national contest
It started with a turtle.
Chad Ackley and Derek Smiertka of Ferndale wanted to buy a pet turtle but there was a problem: They couldn't find an aquarium they liked.
So Smiertka decided to build his own. Using salvaged glass from old windows, he soldered together a massive 6-foot-long, 3-foot-wide, seven-foot-tall terrarium that they put in their Ferndale living room. That was the start of a now rapidly growing business, Lead Head Glass, and a line of terrariums, all made of salvaged glass and wood from deconstructed Detroit homes.
"We're humbled by how quick we've caught the attention of stores and the buying public," says Smiertka, who says their terrariums, modeled after 19th century Wardian cases, now are sold at roughly 20 stores across Metro Detroit including Fleur Detroit and English Gardens in Royal Oak.
Lead Head Glass is one of at least 15 local finalists in this year's Martha Stewart American Made contest, an annual quest to find the best local artisans and entrepreneurs making handmade goods across the country. Divided into four categories — crafts, design, food, and style — winners receive $10,000, a trip for two to New York, a spread in Martha Stewart Living, and other prizes. The winners will be announced Oct. 17, including an audience choice winner (see box for voting details).
Smiertka says winning would help he and Ackley find a new outside studio — they currently work out of their Ferndale basement and "are bursting at the seams" — and hire more staff.
Still, just being recognized "by your peers and friends, and being chosen as a finalist, is just an amazing notch," says Smiertka.
Alex Drew & No One, a Brooklyn-born, Detroit-based design studio that makes modern furniture, is another local finalist. Inspired by modern art and architecture, Alex Rosenhaus and partner Drew Arrison's line of tables debuted at Architectural Digest's Home Show in March and it's only been building momentum since then.
Working with both reclaimed and natural wood, Rosenhaus, who grew up in Farmington Hills, says "we try to find really beautiful pieces and showcase that."
"We like metal work and how light plays with positive and negative space," she says. Each piece is handcrafted and the joinery "is a very traditional style," she says.
Another finalist, Nicole Hodsdon of Ciseal (which is Gaelic for "layer"), was an engineer before deciding to pursue a more creative career path making furniture from bent plywood. She glues thin, flexible sheets of wood or veneer together over a mold.
"The sheets are flexible enough to take the shape of the mold and when the glue between the layers dries they are held to that shape forever," says Hodsdon. "So I'm actually making my own plywood that's bent instead of the flat sheets that you usually see."
After hearing things like "girls don't make furniture," Hodsdon says winning Stewart's contest would be an affirmation of her work: "It would also be great to have a bit of a head start financially to build the hand crafted bent plywood shop of my dreams."
At least 15 Detroit-area artisans, furniture makers and entrepreneurs are finalists in Martha Stewart's 2014 American Made contest. Votes can be cast until Oct. 13 — up to 6 times a day — for the Audience Choice Award. Go to marthastewart.com/americanmade/nominees. Finalists include:
■ Alex Drew & No One (Design: Furniture & Home Accessories)
■ Ciseal (Design: Furniture & Home Accessories)
■ Detroit Dirt (Food, Agriculture & Sustainability)
■ Detroit Fiber Works (Crafts: Fiber Crafts)
■Lead Head Glass (Crafts: Ceramics, Pottery, Glass)
■Smith Shop (Design: Furniture & Home Accessories)