Sheet Metal Alchemist is a group of artists headed by Sean Cusack. Specializing in medium scale metal work, fire effects, and electronics, their goal is to not only build beautiful works of art, but also to inspire creativity in anyone that has a drive to learn. Sean and his partner in crime, Lara Edge, recently set up their own shop here at American Steel Studios.
A.S.: What do you do?
Sean: Sheet Metal Alchemist is a design-build company focused on uniting the latest in CNC technologies (waterjet, 5+ axis machining, 3D printing) with traditional metalworking and electronics passions to create unique, interactive centerpieces for events, restaurants, architects, companies and others. In addition, we love to build non-commission art projects to build community, teach others new skills and do wacky things that stretch the imagination.
A.S.: Why do you do what you do?
Lara: All I ever wanted to do was go to art school. Watching my mother struggle with cancer really helped me realize what was important and put my priorities in place. Corporate life paid the bills, but wasn’t fulfilling to me. What I wanted to do was create beautiful, interactive art pieces.
I met Sean 4 months after my mother passed away. He was facing some challenges of his own and together we decided to go for it. I had already been part of the D.S.C. where I learned welding and spent my spare time. Originally, I thought I would be making armatures for sculptures, but I fell in love with welding and fire art. At the same time Sean had his own hobby space at the Boxshop in San Francisco. We put our minds and skills together then jumped out of the “normal” workforce.
Sean: The short answer is because doing anything else drove us to insanity, and not the fun kind of insanity we are currently enjoying. My background is in Chemical Engineering, and I spent 7 years using the latest laboratory technologies to research and develop new cancer therapies. Throughout my career, I’ve used many products from the Autodesk and DSS software suites for industrial systems design thus gaining a solid 10 years of experience in CAD design. As my hobby in metalworking grew into a semi-pro side career, I gradually realized that I could unite his expertise in CAD, CAM, and advanced CNC equipment with my passion of metalwork to achieve truly unique designs.
When I met my partner Lara Edge, we were both metalworking and fire arts hobbyists who were more excited about our passions than our careers at the time. As our hobbies grew into a semi-professional side-career, we decided to take the leap and form the company Sheet Metal Alchemist. Currently we’ve made the full transition to running the business while Lara teaches metal shop and welding classes part-time at TechShop San Francisco, and I help manage the state-of-the-art workshop for Autodesk at Pier 9 in San Francisco.
A.S.: It’s obvious this team has some of the most important ingredients to bring a vision to fruition. In addition to talent and drive, they obviously have deep professional respect and admiration for each other.
Lara: I’ve never met anyone like Sean. He has so much energy and ambition. He is one of those really rare birds who wakes up one morning and says ‘I’m going to do this really crazy and amazing thing’, and then he goes and does it. Everything he touches turns to gold.
A.S.: What brought you to AmSteel?
Sean: Both Lara and I were members of the Department of Spontaneous Combustion where we could share our love of fire effects with like minded folks, and when the D.S.C. moved into AmSteel a year ago, we fell in love the space.
Until recently, we have exclusively used shared shops in order to have access to the latest and best equipment. As our business has grown over the last year and a half, we were in need of a shop space of our own for final assembly and fitting, thus we are thrilled to have our own space inside of AmSteel and right next to DSC!
A.S.: What about being at AmSteel is good for your business?
S.C.: The facilities are exactly what we need – giant open space with really high ceilings, a massive crane at our disposal, and the ability to continue expanding as our business grows!
A.S.: What’s your favorite part of being here?
Sean: The inspiration for us on an everyday basis. Its amazing to be able to walk down the main aisle way and see so many impressive artists, makers, and builders all in one place. Its kind of like having the most well decorated office in the history of the universe.
A.S.: What‘s your favorite piece?
Sean: Like any maker, its tricky to pick a single piece which is our absolute favorite. I’d say any of our interactive fire pieces are the most fun to run though. There’s nothing quite like the sparkle that appears in a participant’s eye when they realize they have control of huge, booming, fireball. The remake of Lara’s High Striker was a big hit at East Bay Mini Maker Faire. Its really tall, its quite the centerpiece, and we’re really excited to be able to tour that piece more this coming year.
Sheet Metal Alchemist has a few standing gallery shows where their work is always shown. Some small leather goods are available for purchase at Loakal in Jack London Square, and Zolterno (left) will be on display at Pier 9 throughout 2014. They’re also planning on participating in this year’s Maker Faire, and are looking forward to building a brand new piece for Burning Man 2014.