Long before the State of Alabama declared 2016 as The Year of the Maker, creativity has been pouring forth from our home. The rest of the country has already discovered our beloved designers Billy Reid and Natalie Chanin. But look in our own backyard and you’ll find the next generation of makers in a smartly renovated Avondale warehouse.
A few years ago, architect Bruce Lanier and his wife Scottie realized the need for a space in Birmingham where artists and craftspeople could gather, share ideas, and progress their careers. The first iteration of this idea took place at the old Continental Gin Industrial Park, where a small group of woodworkers, welders, and screen printers shared supplies and space and where various introduction classes were taught.
During that initial run, the Laniers realized that people were more interested in acquiring actual workspace, not just access to machines, equipment, and classes. To accommodate those needs, the couple acquired the former RAM Tool & Supply warehouse and implemented their revised MAKEbhm plan. Some tenants from the old space set up shop in the new location, and word began to spread in the maker community. The website touts, “We provide space, tools, power, WiFi, and coffee. You provide the inspiration and perspiration.”
The overall vibe at MAKEbhm is palpable—you can’t see or touch it, but you know it’s there. Inside, a variety of creative types—introverts and extroverts working side by side, artists painting on paper or wood, craftsmen manipulating clay or metal—engage with one another and offer encouragement. And no matter where their artistic interests lie, they all agree on one thing—it’s the community that keeps them coming back for inspiration to create their best work possible.
Jewelry Designer // 205.332.9795 // MadebyAK.com
Jewelry designer and goldsmith A.K. Hall speaks so softly that you need to lean in to hear her, but doing so affords you a better view of the many rings that adorn her hands. Each designed by Hall, some rings are delicate bands while others feature raw diamonds or a chunk of turquoise. And in many ways, the jewelry reflects the artist: quiet but strong, delicate but unwavering, organic and enduring.
Hall is not what you’d typically envision as an artist wielding a soldering iron and working in chemical alloys, but dig a little deeper and you discover she has a strong background in science and math. Having studied out west under artist Kristin Diener and at San Francisco’s acclaimed Revere Academy, Hall pairs classic instruction with an artist’s inspiration. She notes, “I’ve never been about perfection. Handmade things are never perfect. I think imperfections, especially in jewelry, are very pretty—just they are like in people.”
Hall says that the MAKEbhm space might prove to be one of the best tools in her arsenal. She credits the community effect in providing inspiration and structure to help her focus on her craft. An introvert by nature, Hall often wondered what it might mean to be in this hive of activity. She has since discovered that this environment allows her to thrive and grow, one gorgeous piece of jewelry at a time.
Letterpress // 256.504.9445 // chrisksmith.net
You might wonder how a maker could accomplish anything in a 9- x 9-foot space. Well, it seems that it is just the right size to house an antique letterpress, which is exactly what Chris Smith was looking for. While Smith has long been interested in the art of letterpress, he has only recently come to have a press of his own: a 1, 300-pound 1902 Chandler & Price 8 x 12 machine. Having taken classes in Huntsville with Green Pea Press and The Open Press in Chattanooga, Smith later interned at Smokey Road Press in Athens, Georgia, and with Terry Chouinard in Chattanooga, Tennessee. And while this art of creating coasters, business cards, and note cards still remains just a hobby for him, it is one he is excited about sharing with other people. “My setup at MAKEbhm allows me do that, ” he says. “I am glad to have the machine in a place where I can use it.”
When he is not at MAKEbhm, you can find Smith behind the bar at Urban Standard downtown, where he first learned about what Bruce and Scottie were doing in Avondale. “When I originally acquired my machine, I was living in an apartment and I knew I could not have it in there, ” he says. “I heard about MAKEbhm from somebody at work and then came by to check things out. I thought it would be a good fit.” And as it turns out, his small space is the perfect fit.
Artist // 251.610.6144 // AmandaPetroArt.com
Spitfire. Powerhouse. Firecracker. These are all words that come to mind when you meet artist Amanda Petro. To think anything less would be to underestimate the amount of talent and grit she has in her tiny frame.
Petro worked with Bruce Lanier to create her ideal work environment at MAKEbhm. A high-backed open desk with room to hang her art-in-progress is juxtaposed against large white walls that she uses as additional workspace. Petro sometimes likes to sit on the floor and create so that the paint-splattered carpet provides comfort and sound absorption.
“I thought I liked working alone. But then I met (fellow maker) Susan Gordon in an exercise class, ” says Petro. “She mentioned having a space here, so I decided to check it out. Scottie (Lanier) gave me a tour. I liked the space so much that I moved in the next day.”
You can find Amanda Petro Art around town at places like Chickadee in Cahaba Heights or at her December 8th pop-up event at the Crestline Village location of Cotton & Quill. A well-curated Instagram account also showcases what she can do with paint and canvas. In describing her art, Petro says, “Everything I do is just really colorful with a lot of movement and energy. I’m also known for texture. I like to use thick oils. I do an under-painting in acrylic and then paint over it in oils.”
There seems to be no end to where Petro finds her inspiration, as she fills book after book with thoughts, quotes, drawings, and ideas. But it might just be the MAKEbhm space that inspires her the most. “Being here is a lot like being in art school—the community, the vibe, the sharing, the collaboration—but there are no grades and assignments.”
Artist // 205.245.3449 // etsy.com/NewlyScripted
Psychologists call the act of copying another’s movements mirroring. Start a conversation with Amber Rosenberg and you will quickly find yourself shifting to the front of your seat, unconsciously emulating the positive energy and excitement she exudes. Her enthusiasm for the work she does—creating custom, hand-lettered art and globes—is so obvious that you can’t help but want to know more about her craft.
What began as a passion for fonts and a single Etsy post has blossomed into a full-blown career for Amber and her husband who handles the business side of Newly Scripted. “A couple of years ago when we were briefly living in Delaware, I started doing some custom chalkboard ornaments, which really took off, ” says Rosenberg. “But then a lot of other people started doing chalkboard things, so I wanted to try something new. My son had a globe in his nursery and I just decided to paint it, label it, and put it on Etsy. It sold like that!”
Her business may only occupy a 9- x 9-foot area on the MAKEbhm floor, but Rosenberg’s infectious spirit certainly spills over. “I really needed someplace where I could keep all of my stuff, but I didn’t know that just anyone could have a space here. I thought you had to be invited! I reached out (to the Laniers) for a tour and fell in love.”
Rosenberg gets giddy talking about what this space means to her business. “I can come and interact with other artists and we can inspire each other. And then I can still have a little time to myself.”
Leigh and Cliff Spencer
Urban Timber Woodworkers // 205.377.6729 // ALASAW.com
Pair one Alabama-born carpenter/designer with one Los Angeles-raised graphic designer, add in equal parts opportunity, inspiration, and a dash of destiny, and the end result is Alabama Sawyer, or ALASAW. Leigh and Cliff Spencer enjoyed a thriving bespoke woodworking business in Venice, California, for years before deciding to relocate to Birmingham and take their creative venture in the next logical direction. Cliff says, “Four or five years ago, we felt like we had hit the ceiling of the custom cabinetry/custom woodwork business in Los Angeles. We had great clients but we were doing the same thing over and over again. We knew we needed to grow and change the nature of our business if we were to keep growing creatively.”
Fast forward a few years and that is where the destiny part comes in. “In 2014, I spoke at Design Week Birmingham about urban timber and urban salvage, ” says Cliff. “I talked about this idea that Alabama has the second largest urban forest in the nation and that all of the trees were going to the chipper or landfill. I was telling people that they should be using that wood for other things.” As it turns out, Cliff and his wife were the ones who followed his own advice. They quickly realized that Birmingham was where they needed to take their business.
At first, the couple considered setting up shop by themselves, but the chance to bunk in at MAKEbhm has added a component to their work they never considered needing—community. They have forged relationships with other designers and architects, partnering on projects that have genuine impact. One of Cliff’s first projects in the Birmingham community was in reusing trees felled at the new Creative Montessori School site in Homewood. Cliff says, “The school was really attached to those trees and hated to see them go, so to have that wood become a part of the new school—in paneling, benches, tabletops and on the playground—is incredibly meaningful.”
Ceramic artist and designer // 205.541.7858 // SusanGordonPottery.com
While many of the other makers occupy a single 9- x 9-foot space at MAKEbhm, Susan Gordon leases six contiguous spaces to form a mini-production facility for her handmade ceramic wares. Her creations are rolled out in slabs of gray clay, and then shaped, molded, fired, glazed, embellished, and shipped from this one spot. She and her team turn out a wide range of items: plates, bowls, serving pieces, cake stands, and even jewelry. “All of my golding team members are painters by trade, ” she says. “It is a very meticulous process, and you need it to be exact and perfect.” Gordon’s overall operation has grown significantly since leaving her original studio in the small Homewood basement that she shared with a few spiders. “I am an extrovert by nature and I do not like working alone, ” Gordon says. “It makes me lonely.” The space at MAKEbhm gives her the freedom to pursue more retail accounts (over 80 so far) and the execution of new ideas.
This time of year sees an increase in production of seasonal items like her bespoke Nativity sets and angel ornaments. You can find her work online or locally at Winslet & Rhys (also at MAKEbhm), Chickadee, and Artelier. A portion of all her holiday sales will go to supporting The International Justice Mission, a ministry close to Gordon’s heart. In addition, Gordon has a new partnership with the Rwandan Children’s Project (thercp.org). She will be producing keepsake ornaments with sales benefiting orphans half a world away.
Joel Shaw, Basham Johnson
Potter // 317.937.2765 // EugeneSailorStudios.com
Growing up in Indiana, Joel Shaw discovered a love of working with his hands while taking ceramics classes offered at his high school. A cross-country/track and field scholarship brought him to Samford University, where he continued to develop his ceramics craft while earning an accounting degree. The name of Shaw’s website/business, EugeneSailorStudios.com, pays homage to his grandfather Gene, a craftsman who made Shaw appreciate not only the history of materials but the true usefulness of an object. Shaw has had space with MAKEbhm since its inception, finding great value in the community of artists who spend time here, the sharing of ideas, and the equipment Bruce and Scottie Lanier supply.
Inventor // 360.852.2714 // ALTEGSystems.com
Not all makers work in wood, ceramics, acrylics, or paper. Sometimes makers need to go big and industrial. Basham Johnson is one such maker, and his story is fascinating.
Having been in aviation all his life (he is currently a commercial pilot for FedEx), Johnson maintains a passion for engineering and problem-solving of the highest order. With a flight schedule which allows him concentrated time on and a generous amount of time off, Johnson has the flexibility to pursue another passion. His excitement is contagious as he translates his scope of work: “About 2½ years ago, I had the idea to try and figure out how to channel a lot of the heat energy waste created in aircrafts and other places and turn that into electricity using a concept called thermo-electrics. I entered Alabama Launchpad, where we were finalists and financial winners. Since that time, we have added two more folks to the team. We currently have a working prototype on a small aircraft at the Birmingham airport and have been building a full-scale prototype.”
Brittany Baker and Mallory Collier
Letterpress and Mercantile Shop // 205.201.4456 // WinsletandRhys.com
In today’s world, it is becoming increasingly rare to find people who do only one thing as a career. There are bankers who might cater on weekends, teachers who are seamstresses in high demand, and professional photographers who make honey. And then there are the two women behind Winslet & Rhys Mercantile at MAKEbhm.
Brittany Baker is a graphic designer by trade while Mallory Collier is a full-time architect with Brasfield & Gorrie. The fruit of their partnership fills a light and airy spot at MAKEbhm and is named after variations on their maiden names (Winslet and Rice). “A lot of the products we carry are produced by makers right here in this same building, ” Baker says.
The creative seed for Winslet & Rhys can be found in Baker’s bespoke letterpress line, Oliver Tell Studio, housed in the back corner of their space. There you’ll find her two letterpress machines—Phineas, a large stand-alone Gordon treadle press, and Amelia, a Chandler & Price Pilot tabletop press. Baker’s cards are sold at the Mercantile, and custom orders, such as the wedding invitations she created for Collier, can be ordered online at OliverTellStudio.com.
As for the rest of the store’s offerings, the products featured are roughly 40-50% local in origin. One of the best-selling items is a candle with a custom scent, created locally by Great Bear Wax Company. But in every category—baby presents, home goods, women’s clothing—Baker and Collier agree on one overarching tenet: an emphasis on good design and good quality.
What MAKEbhm can do for you
Whether you are looking for a small office, a cubicle, or a spot at a community table, MAKEbhm has just what you need to tackle your next endeavor. Flesh out that business plan you’ve been meaning to complete, develop the screenplay you have always talked about, or meet with out-of-town clients in a barista-free location. And if you are a maker wishing to turn your culinary skills into something more, check out the MAKEbhm kitchen. For more information on renting space or to schedule a tour, go to MAKEbhm.com
Text by christiana roussel // Photography by art meripol