When walking down Sims Ave in PVD, it is nearly impossible to miss The Steel Yard in all of its metal art glory. “It’s much more than just hammering,” says Elsa Hoffman, an artist resident at industrial art space. Not only do they provide a safe and dependable space for their artists, but they also teach non-traditional art classes, create public projects for the community and host private and public events. The Steel Yard residency program provides space and tools to industrial artists all over the world, allowing them to expand their skill sets. Motif spoke with two residents, Hoffman and Bruna D’Alessandro, to learn more about their crafts. Both artists work primarily with metal but they each have their own style and approach.
D’Alessandro and Hoffman moved from different parts of the country to be a part of the Steel Yard residency program, and their passion for metal art is evident. D’Alessandro focuses on “steel life composition.” She takes elements of real life and combines her observations of the element with how she interprets it in her mind. Hoffman creates a lot of botanical-themed sculptures and furniture pieces, which are inspired by the environment around her. Neither artist is limited to any one form of metal artistry, of course, and they utilize all sorts of techniques to create their pieces.
The artists explain to Motif what drew them to metal art to begin with. Hoffman started with paper and had a background in woodworking before becoming a metal artist. “I was tired of being hyper-calculated with woodworking. Messing up is a big deal,” says Hoffman. “Metal is more forgiving. You can mess up, grind it back down and put it back together.”
While all artists go through their own processes when creating their work, these artists explain that there is no one way for them to create. “Each project is different,” says D’Alessandro, as her hand grazed the display of different projects layed out in front of her. “Sometimes I plan more. Sometimes I don’t plan at all.” She is often driven by what happens during the process. “You can constantly discover something new and unexpected.”
Hoffman agrees, as she leaves room for decision making after laying the foundation for her projects. She has used this tactic when creating Chez, one of her most recent and favorite projects. “I treated it like building a quilt, assembling elements organically as I was making it,” she says, and the natural curve of the chair was in response to her own body’s interaction with it as she created it. She playfully rolled her eyes after recalling someone suggesting she make Chez out of wood. “Wood would never give the same type of feeling to the piece,” she says.
D’Alessandro’s favorite project? It’s a secret! However, she did present her Used Magic Wand project. She wanted the finished product to illuminate a celebration of childhood and fairy tales. In other projects, she has taken objects as simple as a carrot, and created it in the way that she perceives it in her own memory.
One of the best parts of metal art, the artists agree, is the ability to create something so light and delicate out of something hard and concrete. There are very few limitations to their projects. While the finishing touches of the nitty gritty details are a challenge, D’Alessandro showed some of the rust on her pieces and explained that she likes imperfections like that, because it is part of what makes the art form “unstoppable.”
“People work on computers all day in a muted lifestyle,” says Hoffman. “The process is loud and jarring and it reminds us that we are alive and engaged with our surroundings.” D’Alessandro nodded and smiled at Hoffman in agreement. Their work takes their minds off of the stress and anxiety of everyday life. While having a passion for it is necessary, anyone that wants to start this work can, and should. “Go home and look around,” Hoffman says, “you have a lot of scrap metal in your life already, you can cut and grind that.” They both describe metal art as an escape and a confidence builder, and they encourage everyone that wants to, to try it at The Steel Yard.