Monday, November 23, 2009

Magic With Metals - Gratz - The Quiet Giant

Think of Donald Deskey's metal work at Radio City / or Mies van der Rohe's famed Barcelona chair: those legs-- two perfect shining arabesques flowing through each other like water or air. Let's keep going: the metal frames in the Four Seasons restaurant at Mie's Seagram Building; Noguchi's Rocking stool; designs by Le Corbusier and the Eameses.

These were all created by the strong silent Gratz Industries - masters of metal work and imagination. Today we visit with David Rosencrans, principal and go -to- guy for his take on the Magic of Metal.

1. I find it amazing that with all our 2009 technology so much of what is created is stock goods. Artisans and craftsmen are almost a lost and forgotten breed. As an insider what do you remember about factory life and creations 15 years ago as compared to now?

* The difference is that small craft based artisans and fabricators here in the USA are now competing with chain stores and designer products made available through global marketing. Well designed “craft” products are increasingly manufactured in Asia, Eastern Europe and Mexico.

2. In parts of Europe there is still pride and quality among those who work with their hands. Do you think here in America there will come a time when there are no more custom fabricators?

* I think there are a lot of American craftsmen, and artisans that pride themselves in high quality production. There are many shops here in New York / Brooklyn where talented artisans create and make great stuff but in general there is less interest in hand making products and more emphasis on technology here and of course Europe has the long history of guild and apprentice craftsmen in wood, ceramic, metal, glass and furniture fabricating.

3. What metals are currently the most popular?

* Brass and bronze appear to be desirable and nickel plated finishes are often specified

4. Do current projects often combine metals, say 2, 3 or 4 in the attempt to create something radically new or different?

* Very few projects combine the metals in compelling ways , In one of the great New York spaces, the 4 Seasons Restaurant, Mies van der Rohe was heavily criticized for combining stainless steel , brass and aluminum and to some degree designers still appear to reluctant to do so

5. At Gratz and elsewhere, reaching back to the '90's, 80's, 70's & maybe even the 60's, in your mind what, when and where were the creative explosions?

* I have only been at Gratz for 4 years but have been a designer fabricator working in New York since the mid 1980s and there have been numerous “movements” but none that I would classify as explosions. Treitel Gratz our parent company was a big part of Minimalist sculpture fabricating of Walter De Maria, Donald Judd, Barnett Newman and Sol Lewitt

6. Considering the last 5 years, the present and say the next 10 years- - -did you or do you see a creative resurgence among designers, architects and builders?

* I think that the resurgence will be driven by Green Design, sustainability and alternative materials and means and methods of construction

7. Do you see now or predict any iconic metal creations that will have the kind of enduring appeal akin to the Barcelona chair or Noguchi's rocking stool?

* It’s hard to say as there are wonderful current furniture designs but it’s hard to predict what will endure

8. Do you think custom metal work is rarer these days because of the instant gratification factor?

* I think custom hand metal work will continue to some degree production based design and instant gratification dominate but again through technology metal fabrication will always need to compliment the designer’s vision.

9. I understand that Gratz's other financial mainstay, Pilates exercise equipment, has been a division since the 1960's. In New York I recall a Pilate’s explosion in the 2000's, maybe even the late '90's - - who was buying this equipment for the prior 30 years? Was it sold in lots or individually? Were your consumers mainly Americans or Europeans?

* Pilates has grown as a physical fitness niche market and is now in many gyms and there are studios all over the world Initially small studios were outfitted with the original equipment that we made for Joseph Pilates and his disciples and now a lot of derivative equipment and teaching amalgams have developed …so we are strongly linked to Classical Pilates methods and teaching organizations. Equipment is sold in lots and individually depending on the client’s needs and now many orders are from Europe as Pilates proliferates and gain popularity

10. Following up on question 2 - -do you think we'll ever again enjoy the artistic imagination, beauty and fine craftsmen ship of years gone by? Do you know of any parts of our country where there exists this pride and know how?

* Again... There are great woodworkers, metalworkers, ceramic and glass artists hand making incredible objects but production and marketing will focus on the larger companies and production for the masses.

David - Thank you so much for your valued insights. I would personally encourage interior designers, both residential and especially commercial, and architects to consider and explore working with the endless possibilities of metals.