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Three Local Makers Invite You To Witness Their Creative Process

Work in Progress

Work in Progress

Austin’s craftspeople elevate everyday objects to works of art. Purchasing their work is an investment in both a distinctive product and in the livelihood of local families. Three local makers invited us to witness their creative process.

Era Ceramics

Lindsey Wohlgemuth and Dimitar Karaytchev serve up local flavor in their custom dinnerware.

LINDSEY: A few years ago we connected with our first restaurant client at the Feliz craft fair. Natalie Davis from Salt & Time asked us to make some bowls, and then, because chefs in Austin know one another so well, Shawn Cirkiel had us make some dinnerware for Bullfight, Olive & June, and Parkside.

era ceramics austin makersDIMITAR: There was an explosion of restaurants opening up. A lot of them wanted to elevate not just their food but their interior design and their dinnerware.

LW: I think people have realized they don’t have to keep using the same white plates they’ve always used. If they try something different, it will stand out, and it will make the food look a little more special. Some food looks really beautiful on a black plate, or a more-rustic-looking plate. If you’re serving amazing food, the presentation should match.

era ceramics austin makers
Wohlgemuth and Karaytchev use a pit kiln in their backyard to fire pendant lights for Kemuri Tatsu-ya.

We made all the dinnerware for Elle’s Café and Pitchfork Pretty, and we’ve done work for Uchi and Uchiko. These pendant lights are for Kemuri Tatsu-ya. Because they do smoked barbecue and smoked fish, we decided to do smoked pottery for them.

era ceramics austin makersWe built the kiln we used to pit-fire these pendant lights in the backyard. I saved all my clay shavings for months, and then I re-wet that clay and recycled it to make the kiln. For fuel, we use sawdust from HATCH Workshop. The sawdust is so dense, and there’s not much oxygen in a pit kiln like this, so you get a lot of smoke that puts this marbled black on the pottery. When we make dinnerware, each piece gets fired twice in the electric kiln, for about 24 hours each time. With decorative pieces like these lights, we fire everything in the electric kiln first, to make sure it’s durable, and then we just smoke it for a couple of hours for the decorative element.

era ceramics austin makersDK: A lot of our work with restaurants is making an order of, say, 50 bowls that will take us three or four weeks. Then we want to stop and do some fun, arty stuff, like custom work. And some of the things we learn from our experiments might eventually make their way into the dinnerware.

era ceramics austin makersLW: For instance, this light is a little bit jagged on top because we wedged bamboo into the clay before I threw it. The leaves and other materials add obstacles, so I wasn’t able to get it perfectly centered. Then, when we fired the pieces, the leaves burned out and left their marks. We couldn’t pit-fire dinnerware, because it needs to be foodsafe, but we could apply some things we learned from this project to dinnerware later on.

These projects are not just fun but necessary — for finding out new things, and learning about the materials, and just feeling happy. They serve the same purpose as travel, when you get out of your routine and do something new. You have to try different things to remind yourself that you’re not just a business owner, you’re an artist. –R.R.

era ceramics austin makersThis interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Old Crow Custom Works

Adam Young uses wood and steel to build furniture and shape spaces.

I grew up skateboarding in southwestern Louisiana, and my Papaw Young was a master carpenter. When I was about nine years old, my brothers and I asked our grandpa to help us build a ramp for skateboarding in our driveway, and he agreed to it on the condition that we help him build some things like mailboxes and picnic tables. In hindsight I understand that he was trying to get us accustomed to being around tools — to develop respect for them and not be afraid of them.

old crow custom works austin makers furniture
Young is a self-taught woodworker, metalworker, and visual artist who paints on the same longleaf pine he uses in furniture.

I got into welding because, years ago, I worked for a company that built concrete skate parks. One of the guys on the crew would weld the rebar that goes into the concrete, along with the steel pipes that people do tricks on. He taught me some welding, and then when I got to Austin I worked for a landscape architecture company, where I taught myself a lot more. I never went to art school, and I’m not trained in design. But I’m eager to learn, and I’m not afraid to make mistakes, because those are ultimately the best teachers.

old crow custom works austin makers furnitureNinety percent of the projects I’m involved in have both wood and steel in the design — I like the marriage of the two. My favorite type of wood is longleaf pine salvaged from dismantled schools, churches, and homes that were built in Central Texas in the early part of the last century. When I get wood for a project, I’ll first mill it so it has a new surface with a crisp face. The milling reveals this beauty that was hidden within walls, like the 2×6’s that were used as the structural parts of these old homes. I love the transformation of this wood that came from a tree that could have started growing 300 or more years ago, and then was harvested and put into a building that lasted 100 years. And now it has a new life, but the material still contains that history.

old crow custom works austin makers furnitureI do residential commissions, like decks and gates and furniture, as well as commercial work. Recently I did the design and visual aesthetic for Sweet Chive, a restaurant on Cesar Chavez. My team and I did the woodwork and metalwork for the bartop and all the furniture. We also did the buildout for a brewer on Hamilton Pool Road called Family Business Beer Company — the whole bar area and seating area and all the furniture.

old crow custom works austin makers furnitureWhen I’m asked to do design work, I like to start by choosing the material palette. I let that dictate some of the form and function and how those elements will integrate with the existing space. That develops through drawings and site visits and conversations with the client. Often when we’re working on a buildout, we realize there are details that would be nice touches to add at the end but that were hard to foresee at the outset. I try to be open to letting those things reveal themselves. It makes it fun to go into work every day, because those bits of excitement are just beneath the surface. –R.R.

old crow custom works austin makers furnitureThis interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Covet Hats

Aimee Speer is reshaping the traditionally male world of hat-making, one brim at a time.

I have been working since I was 16, and for the first time, after closing my business Hem Jeans in 2014, I was a stay-at-home mom. It was wonderful having three beautiful, healthy daughters, but I had to do some soul searching. What was next?

covet hats austin makers style
Speer, who uses a variety of skins, materials, and accents for her hats, is releasing a wholesale collection this fall.

I have always been an artist and a hat collector, but I also have an engineer’s mind, and I want to know how things work. One day I put on a hat and thought, “How do you make this?”

There aren’t a lot of resources for aspiring hat makers, and it’s a very male-dominated industry, but I found a master hatter in Salt Lake City who was willing to share his knowledge. I went to Utah not knowing anyone and ended up spending a summer there learning all these turn-of-the-century hatting techniques. James Whittington, but everyone called him J.W., was in his late 70s at the time, and many hat makers owe him a great debt.

covet hats austin makers styleThings started slowly at first because I had to have all my equipment made. As a hat maker you’re really only as good as your tools. I didn’t start producing hats for other people until a year later. Then, in 2016, Maureen, who owns Redbird, asked me to do a trunk show. It really all started from there.

Clients come to my studio, and we talk about them for a while. I try and find out what they really want out of their hat. Is this an everyday piece or something more specific? What is their sense of style? What shape will flatter their face: cattleman crown or bolero? Brim down or up? It’s a very personal thing to make for someone. Some people are very involved in the design, and others tell me, “Aimee, you decide.”

covet hats austin makers styleI start by custom-making a band block. Once the block is made, I place the material on it, rope it off, and then begin ironing out the moisture. Pouncing, which is hat-maker speak for sanding, comes next. I work out the rough barbs in the beaver fur to create a velvety texture, starting with a 220-grit sandpaper and working my way up to a 400-grit. Then I plate and pounce the brim so it will be flat and have a smooth finish. Once the extra fabric on the brim gets cut off, I sand down the raw edge and sew in a leather sweatband, like a traditional cowboy hat would have.

Each hat starts in the shape of a bowler dome. I apply steam to the open crown, and the whole thing becomes soft again. It’s almost like working with clay, because I mold each hat with my own two hands, and then it dries in the shape I have created. Once the shape is there, you add personality; it’s really incredible how the finishing changes each piece. I have a huge collection of exotic skins, leather, and feathers that I draw from. The whole process takes about two to three days, but of course that depends on the finishing.

covet hats austin makers styleWhen I’m working, it’s very physical and hot, but also meditative. I am very present when I am making a hat. I hope to do this as long as I can. –M.W.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.