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art & design
Detroit’s Jack of All Trades
June 7, 2012
Amy Devers takes jack-of-all-trades to a whole new level. A furniture maker, designer, artist and carpenter, she hosted Ovation’s Designer People, promotes sustainable living ideas on the web series Urban Eco, and judges international furniture design competitions. In short, her resume is insane. But first and foremost, she is a Detroit native, and we sat down with Amy to get her opinions on her hometown and its influence on her artistic career.
Growing up in Detroit, what influenced your career as an artist?
Even though I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, the auto industry really seeped in. The language of the automobile speaks to so many aspects of modern life. It is the vernacular of forward momentum, a continuing cycle of new growth and shedding of decay. I’ve found myself creating furniture and interactive sculpture from salvaged auto parts, like a love seat made from a bench seat scavenged from a 1971 Ford Hornet.
What’s your favorite Detroit museum or place to visit?
The Diego Rivera courtyard at the Detroit Institute of Arts. There are a series of murals about the Detroit auto industry that are phenomenal. They carved quite an impression into my brain.
What is the biggest misconception about Detroit?
People see Detroit as a bleak, industrial town, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Even in hard times, the people have such amazing soul and pride. It’s like the town trains its people in the art of making something out of nothing, and it gives us a scrappiness. When I think of the enormous sculpture of Joe Louis’ fist to the elbow hanging as a pendulum, it is a visually powerful emblem of that attitude. Detroit fosters a hardscrabble creativity among the people that is conducive to breaking boundaries.
What are your thoughts on Detroit’s growing art scene?
It’s not new that artists often flock to cheap neighborhoods. But what is exciting is that with the economic downturn, the city of Detroit embraced this growth. They didn’t legislate it or try to control it. Instead they have recognized what a beautiful thing is happening and fully embraced this cultural growth. They let it be an organic thing, and it has created a great co-mingling of artists from all over.
For more on the current surge of the arts in Detroit, check out Motor City Rising, Ovation‘s original series chronicling the artistic revolution to take back Detroit! Airing Fridays at 10pm ET, only on Ovation.
Claudia Maittlen-Harris is a writer and comedian based in Los Angeles. She is the co-creator of the how-not-to dating/relationship blog, The Zeros Before the One.
Images: Courtesty of Amy Devers
What You Make of It
Pull Up a Chair, Then Fix It
Sadé Hooks laces a chair. More Photos »
By ANDREW WAGNER
Published: May 23, 2012
IT’S hard not to get swept up in the excitement of Design Week in New York, when the newest home furnishings are introduced at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, and related events happen all over town.
But what about all the old furnishings: those forlorn, broken-down pieces that are forgotten, cast off and kicked to the curb, seemingly destined for the landfill?
Not everyone, it turns out, has left them for dead.
Last Saturday, as part of a conference called MakeShift, Natalie Chanin, the founder of the fashion label Alabama Chanin, held a workshop to rehabilitate some of these castoffs at Partners & Spade on Bond Street. The event, which she called Crafting Design, was dedicated to resurrecting the bent, twisted and broken remnants of what the poet David McFadden has described as “the most ubiquitous and important design element in the domestic environment”: the chair.
But with New York’s bed bug scare still going strong, finding enough eligible chairs (more than 20, so that every participant would have at least one to work on) was more challenging than anyone anticipated.
Organizers finally decided that while steel and plastic chairs found on the street were fair game, wooden chairs were too risky, and only those found online were accepted as candidates for rehabilitation. Still, by the morning of the event there was a good-size pile for attendees to pick through outside Partners & Spade.
Amy Devers and Tanya Aguiñiga, Los Angeles-based designers who were in New York for the fair, each found a chair within minutes.
“We do this for a living,” said Ms. Aguiñiga, who specializes in furniture and jewelry design. “We know what we like when we see it.”
Inside, hammers, drills, nails and sandpaper were artfully laid out for participants’ use. The 20 or so people who showed up were given only one instruction: that there were no instructions. Even so, seasoned designers like Ms. Aguiñiga and Ms. Devers and several experienced craftsmen were on hand to offer help and advice.
Cathy Bailey, an owner of Heath Ceramics, grabbed a drill and a plastic knockoff Eames chair and calmly set to work on it, weaving a zigzag pattern into the plastic seat using colorful scraps of T-shirt material provided by Ms. Chanin’s studio.
Ms. Aguiñiga quickly dismantled the weathered seat of her wooden chair. Then she grabbed a handful of T-shirt strips and began weaving them through the back of the chair, creating a soft multicolored backrest. For the seat, she used thin rope to provide structural support and then applied a layer of navy-blue T-shirt material on top.
Ms. Devers, a furniture designer and the star of “Fix This Yard” on A&E, was hammering nails into the seat and back of her old Ikea chair, piling T-shirt scraps on top and carefully threading them through the nail bedding, so that the material began to take on the appearance of a colorful shag rug. One lone, loose piece from the back was left to dangle gracefully to the ground.
Soon, two hours had passed, and it was time to assess the results. All the castoff chairs had been restored to life, and some could have held their own at the furniture fair.
But that was not their destiny. Instead, it was decided that they should be returned to the streets where they came from, to pass on inspiration to whomever found them.
And so, at the end of the day, they were back on the sidewalk. Several of them sat on a corner in Chinatown, beside a pile of trash, where curious passers-by could peruse them.
Perhaps some lucky person took them home.
I had an amazing time at ICFF and Design Week in NYC. I even managed to get in some hot, hands-on, DIY chair action. Check it out… (click here for the full article)
“…With some serious star-studded attendees including Los Angeles-based designers Amy Devers and Tanya Aguiniga, the affair produced some gems that would have been the highlights at any of the many galleries putting their best feet forward during design week.
But we had other ideas. While some attendees took their pieces home, we set Amy and Tanya’s contributions free in the wilds of New York—returned to the streets from whence they came. We are firm believers in what comes around goes around.”
Q: “I just moved to Austin, TX and bought my first place! Iʼm totally digging the thrift-chic look; do you know of any great shops or flea markets around town where I can pick stuff up?”
Congratulations and welcome to “the live music capital of the world!” I don’t live in Austin, but I have had the benefit of visiting several times for SXSW and to shoot my web series, Urban Eco. Austin is rad, I love it there. I’m sure you will too.
Thrift-chic is a look that must be carefully curated to reflect your personal interests and style. Because if it’s not, you will basically just end up with a garage sale in your living room, which is not a good look. In my opinion, the absolute best part about second-hand objects is that they come with their own personal stories and histories. Sometimes you can learn these stories through the acquisition process, like when the sweet and chatty gray-haired lady holding the yard sale tells you she got that tea set as a wedding gift when she married her first husband in …