It would be easy to miss the old industrial building, layered with years of grit and toil, tucked on the side of Dixie Highway in Clarkston. With no sign marking it, someone could easily bypass this building, never knowing it is where two wizards conjure up life from metal.
Welcome to Iron Raven Metals, where metal is sculpted, molded, and shaped to create an elegant symphony of form, function, and art. On a recent visit, co-owner Mark Haines was showing off a detailed calla lily sculpture that would almost look fragile if it wasn’t made of steel. It’s an example of how Iron Raven Metals can create something completely organic from a material that’s inherently rigid and unmoving.
Haines and partner Pat Weiss co-founded Iron Raven Metals in 2012, and business has been rolling in steadily ever since. The duo’s list of projects is as extensive as it is varied: They’ve fashioned iron gates, garden fences, arbors and planters, metal fountains and outdoor fire features, stairway railings, wall sculptures, garden sculptures, metal doors, and indoor and outdoor furniture.
Haines, who has a master’s degree in fine art from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, spent five years in New York City in the late 1990s working as a sculptor (his most memorable project was building a scaled version of I.M. Pei’s steel and glass pyramid) before returning to his home state of Michigan to start his own business.
Weiss contrasts Haines’ art school-trained background with “hard knocks,” as he puts it. While growing up, he learned how to work with metal by helping his father restore and repair cars, and he continued his education as an automotive prototype journeyman. After he left the automotive industry, he worked on his own before the recession hit and he decided that teaming up with another artisan made economic sense.
Much of Iron Raven Metals’ success can be attributed to the pair’s surprising lack of ego, rather than their need to be noticed. Their mission, they point out, is to make their work enhance — yet fit harmoniously in — a space’s overall decorative theme. “We’re really interested in synergy,” Haines says. “These homes are objects of art. It’s important for us to contribute to that, not dominate.”
A home in Rochester Hills demonstrates this integrative philosophy. A steel mirror frame shows off the same lines and curves found on an existing imported Italian marble table, while a sculpture made up of dozens of individual jewel-like pieces sets off a wall without taking over the home’s design scheme. There’s also a steel motorcycle sculpture that rests on a side table of the home — a testament to Iron Raven’s dedication to artistic as well as functional pieces.
“We can build gates, but we can also build figurative work,” Haines says.
For the most part, the pair eschew paint on their work, preferring instead a “witches’ brew” of chemical processes that tease out a variety of brilliant hues from the metal, Weiss says. This brand of artistic integrity is especially welcomed by a clientele that seems unique to Michigan, Haines explains.
“The culture of manufacturing, history of doing/making/building, and the existence of a large community of people of means somehow created a condition that is so nurturing to creative artisans,” he says.
Next up for the pair is a 14-foot elephant sculpture a homeowner commissioned for her backyard. It won’t be easy, of course. There will be sketches, drafts, prototypes, and redesigns — but it’s the type of challenge the men of Iron Raven Metals relish. “I’m building sculpture every day,” Haines says, “and I love it.”
More information on Iron Raven Metals can be found at ironravenmetals.com.