18 Mar 2013

Announcing The Rare Craft Fellowship Awards Finalists


Over the course of our travels on the Rare Craft Roadshow, we had the pleasure of meeting dozens of individuals that are keeping handcrafted traditions alive and well in every corner of the US. The passion and skill we encountered at every stop was inspiring, and made choosing finalists for our Rare Craft Fellowship Award a difficult undertaking. However, decisions had to be made, and we are thrilled to announce the six finalists. We salute you and your dedication to your craft!
We’re bringing all six finalists to our Fellowship Awards in New York City on January 30, where one will receive a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a money-can’t-buy trip to Scotland to spend time at our legendary distillery and apprentice under another local craftsperson of their choosing. In addition, they will receive $5,000 towards materials. The remaining five craftspeople will receive $2,000 to put towards their business. We will be posting live updates from the Fellowship Awards celebration, so be sure to follow @BalvenieUS on Twitter!
Colsen Keane
Old Glory hangs in the corner of Scott Hofert’s workshop, and rolls of tanned hides fill the space with a smoky sweet nose reminiscent of a tack room. A half complete, caramel brown satchel sits atop a sturdy table in the center of the room, and we arrive to find Scott stitching the bag together. Guaranteed for life, it’s an heirloom that will get you to the end of the line and back again. Bearing the names of his sons, Colsen and Keane, this is craftsmanship of the highest order.
A self-confessed leather junkie, Scott’s design ethic is rooted in practicality. Clean, simple lines take form from the highest quality American hides and evoke the same kind of rugged individualism that inspired the likes of Emerson and Thoreau. The process is unfeigned, and like Scott says, if you spill a little blood along the way, so be it, you merge with the craft and the product is better for it. 
Kelly Guitars
Rick Kelly crafts his guitars by hand at 42 Carmine Street in Greenwich Village using reclaimed lumber – white pine, to be exact. Originally culled from virgin Adirondack forests in the days when the Iroquois fished the rivers of upstate New York, white pine was used to frame buildings in the burgeoning metropolis that would become the Big Apple. With many buildings of that era now being demolished, the well-preserved lumber faces a slow and unfortunate trundle toward decomposition in a trash heap.
Enter Kelly, who rescues it from the gnashing teeth of decay and breathes new life into it as a musical instrument. Using Fender bodies as design models Rick hews each guitar by hand, and fit with handmade pickups, they howl like a wolf under a fat moon.
Dubbed the “Bones of Old New York”, the reclaimed white pine steeps each guitar in a historical narrative. Whether it’s beer spilled on the floor at Chumly’s , or boot heels drug up the stairs at dawn in the Chelsea Hotel, the subtle ephemera of the city inhabit these guitars like a genie in a forgotten lamp.
Cutlery maker and all-around artisan Chris Harth is based out of Ft. Green, Brooklyn. Chris works in his back yard, where he keeps all of the equipment and materials that go into his craft.  For the most part, he makes cutlery, but he can make just about anything from stone, wood or steel. He usually works on commission and uses reclaimed objects as raw material for many of his products. He can make up to 500 knives from a single, 40s-era circular saw blade.
Optimo Hats
Optimo makes fedoras, porkpies, homburgs, straw and several other styles of hats – with straw hats being their biggest business. Graham Thompson is the hat maker and proprietor, and has been running the store for 16 years. He was trained by legendary Chicago hat maker Johnny Tyus. It’s more than apparent that hat making was seemingly always in his blood. 
Graham talked about Chicago , the heritage of high-end hats and how the area has changed over the last few decades. Hat culture has never died on the south side of Chicago, and Optimo has remained a premium standard for fashionable headgear. Graham travels the world to get the necessary equipment and supplies to run the business – even to Ecuador three times a year for straw. He once traveled to Germany to pick up old millinery machines from 1901 and 1910 – it’s like a museum in there! 
Optimo has made custom hats for Robert De Niro, Johnny Depp and blues legend, John Lee Hooker. 
Red Metal
Rachel David is an artist blacksmith and proprietor of Red Metal in New Orleans’ Seventh Ward, an oasis of craftsmanship in one of the New Orleans neighborhoods worst hit by Katrina. 
A young artist with an incredible gift for her craft, Rachel reminded us of something we should have realized sooner: that blacksmiths are responsible for creating the tools that enable all the rest of the world’s craftsmen to do their jobs. In that sense, blacksmithing is known as the King of Crafts, with Rachel as the Queen. Hot, physical and punishing, Rachel managed to make blacksmithing look like an easy trade. As we arrived, she was putting the finishing touches on an absolutely beautiful bottle holder for the Balvenie, which she gave to us. 
Driven by a love of natural materials and influenced by the likes of mid-century Danish designer Hans Wegner, Scott McGlasson works primarily with walnut because of its burls, deep color and the way it ages.
“Wood has a tactile magnetism. You just have to reach out and touch it,” he said. And there was plenty of work on hand to attest to Scott’s ability to evoke that magnetism. A large, multi-drawer curio cabinet towered above a live-edge bench, and a caramel stool tufted with an Icelandic sheep pelt flanked several lamps. Each piece had its own woof, but they all riffed on a similar rustic industrial aesthetic. “I design based on need, and while I value nature for giving me materials, I look to the shapes in old, rusty factories for inspiration,” he said.
Scott began making furniture full time in 1998, and architects kept him busy with cabinetry for high-end residential projects. The change in tack has taken him to the pages of American Craft magazine and the halls of the Minnesota Historical Society.

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