Gabriel Craig opened Smith Shop with his wife Amy Weiks at Ponyride in 2012. They do just about everything at their metalworking studio, from hammer engraving intricate designs on a table leg for a custom project, to producing kitchenware for homegoods stores; from offering jewelry-making classes to doing repair work on three-foot-tall bronze stork statues.
The two artists chose to focus on functional work at Smith Shop rather than their art practice so they would be connecting with people more directly. Craig’s ultimate goal is to build up the crafts community in Detroit and bring some organization to it, through a nonprofit center and trade group.
How Ponyride gave them the backbone to pursue an ambitious project:
We’re working on establishing a physical craft center in Detroit, the Center for Craft and Applied Arts. I knew that was the eventual goal, to have something that really was dedicated to craft manufacturing, but to go from no infrastructure, and not having an income, and not having a business, to establishing ourselves here -- it made much more sense to kind of align our interests with something else that was happening, establish ourselves and the work toward building a larger community.
On the lessons he’ll take from Ponyride when they build their own space:
Asking people to volunteer to improve the space, and just saying here’s a space, we’re trying to do good, here’s some pizza and beer -- that’s like the idea of asking your neighbor to help you, like a barn raising. I don’t think that people do that very often, but if you ask, I think people are really excited to try and help.
We’ve learned a lot about what works, and a lot about what doesn’t work, just from talking our colleagues here. We’ve learned a lot about what people want in a space and how to build the community that we ultimately want. I think if we set up shop without Ponyride we would have made a lot of mistakes that we now won’t make.
On pushing back against the Detroit decline story:
At the beginning it was really loose, and it was really about people working and volunteering to take a building that was sort of in decent shape and reconfigure it so it could be put to more productive use. My experience was that there wasn’t a definite plan, it was more about this very instinctual reaction to what was happening with the state of the city.
There were these two trends, there was the end of the recession and the foreclosure crisis, and the city going into decline and eventual bankruptcy, and this was one trend. And at the same time, there was this other trend, toward lots of people having an incredibly strong drive toward community and entrepreneurship. I think a lot of the people that were involved in Ponyride were really interested in that counter-narrative. Ponyride almost became a way to express that for a lot of people.