Craft Culture: From fire comes functional art at Elias Metal Studio

Giving new meaning to mundane

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Lisa Elias of Elias Metal Studio // Photo by Tj Turner

Without air conditioning, the atmosphere in Elias’ Northeast Minneapolis studio hangs heavy and thick as the outside temperature creeps over 90 degrees. The artist only wears one color in the studio: gray. She found charcoal T-shirts are best for masking the sweat and steel grime that inevitably end up on her clothes each day.

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A lamp created by Lisa Elias of Elias Metal Studio // Photo by Tj Turner

Elias fires up her forge and the already sticky space gets hotter. She grabs a five-foot piece of steel and sticks it in the furnace. Once the end starts to glow she pulls the rod out and places the hot steel under the power hammer—a green, vintage-looking piece of equipment nearly as tall as Elias that would look equally at home on the floor of an antique store. More than 80 pounds of pressure comes barreling down to flatten and taper the end of the rod. Then it’s a dance between the fire and the anvil as Elias picks up a hammer to form a series of curves in the steel.

Once the lines feel right, Elias will weld the curved steel onto the custom stop sign post lying on the floor of her studio. When it’s done the piece will join the nearly 140 other posts already installed at intersections throughout St. Paul. This series of work is part of an ongoing project with St. Paul’s Residential Street Vitality Program, a team Elias joined 2015. Now along with two other artists she helps city planners and engineers incorporate public art into city roads undergoing construction and maintenance.

“There’s signage everywhere and so many of the posts we look at are tilted or just so wackily put together, so we came up with this idea of stop sign posts,” the artist says. “Subtleties are really nice. I find small, pleasant moments are more impactful than a huge statement for me.”

Through public work like this, Elias transforms everyday experiences and elevates mundane objects into art. It’s a role the artist never imagined she’d have when she launched her full-time career more than 20 years ago. Back then she had one goal: to spend time in her studio every day doing what she loves most. Now she harnesses that passion to identify overlooked community spaces where she can create small moments of wonder.

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Lisa Elias welds at Elias Metal Studio // Photo by Tj Turner

“Don’t we all want something more interesting to look at than something thrown together?” Elias asks. “A well-crafted space connects people and makes you care more. I think it adds community and ownership. We all want to have spaces that mean something.”

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