Forging New Frontiers

Graduates of multiple disciplines from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit have long been planting new roots of creative entrepreneurism and artistic craft.
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Michelle Plucinsky art
Photography Courtesy of Michelle Plucinsky

A discipline at the College for Creative Studies since its inception in 1906 as the Society of Arts and Crafts, the Crafts curriculum blends technical training with quality, beauty and functionality as core values — and sets graduates up to carve paths of their own.

Inspired by themes of nature, found objects and color pattern, Master Glassblower Michelle Plucinsky incorporates those influences in her glass creations and sculpture; her newest work weaves plants and natural materials with glass accents or glass walls into “colorful, powerful, engaging fireballs of glass energy. “Perhaps (onlookers) don’t see things in the same light as I do,” the artist states, “so working with the glass I can create new viewpoints for thought and inspiration.”

Michelle Plucinsky
Run as a private studio by glass artisans Michelle Plucinsky (below) and Chris Nordin, Furnace Design Studio LLC opens its doors three times a year to the public for three events: Michigan Glass Month, Glass Pumpkin Fest and Holiday Bazaar (furnacedesignstudio.com) // Photography Courtesy of Michelle Plucinsky

A 1991 graduate of CCS, Plucinsky co-founded Furnace Hot Glass Works in southwest Detroit with partner Chris Nordin and began crafting a signature line of functional 50s-themed glassware. The company — renamed Furnace Design Studio and moved to an expanded Dearborn site in 2005 — has evolved into one of the Motor City’s most renowned high-craft glass manufacturers, producing works of glass, wood and metal for corporate commissions, environmental installations and restaurant interiors worldwide. Plucinsky also serves as chief operating officer of The Glass Academy, offering workshops, classes, demonstrations, tours and a retail store (furnacedesignstudio.com; glassacademy.com).

Whether the result is blown glass, fabricated metal or mixed-media wood and stone sculptures, Israel Nordin, a 1999 graduate of CCS, started Detroit Design Center with his brother Erik in 2001 to create what a client’s space needs (detroitdesigncenter.com). Working out of their Michigan Avenue-based studio, the Nordin brothers craft furniture, sculpture, gates, railings, lighting and other types of unique functional and decorative art for residential and commercial customers. The process begins with an in-depth interview, which the Nordins express is the best part of their job.

It’s been really rewarding to hear our visitors’ reactions to the space and the art.
— Heather Caverly

“When our objects are finished they connect with our clients,” they note. “They have a life of their own.”

First introduced to the towering sand bluffs and scenic beaches of Empire by her husband on their honeymoon in 1979, CCS 2009 alumni Heather Caverly has been smitten since with the area’s inspiring, abundant natural beauty.

Sleeping Bear Gallery
*Renamed the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education in 2009, the Albert Kahn-designed Argonaut Building was built in 1928 and 1936 by General Motors. The 760,000-square-foot facility became home of the first automotive design studio and birthplace of the world’s first automatic transmission. // Photography Courtesy of Rodger Skinner/Sleeping Bear Gallery

In May of 2012 — aided by close friend Becky Willis, who has been teaching jewelry making in Franklin Village for more than two decades — she opened Sleeping Bear Gallery, which features an array of quality exhibits by area artists and a workspace in which visitors can interact with them. The Clipper Building, which Caverly purchased, also houses living space.

“It’s been really rewarding to hear our visitors’ reactions to the space and the art,” she shares. “Their expressions, kind words and warm gestures have let us know that our efforts are appreciated.”


Shinola Watches
Photography courtesy of Shinola

Skill at Scale

With a rich heritage tracing back to 1906 and roots to the English Arts and Crafts movement, the College for Creative Studies (CCS) today is a flourishing modern hub for artistry and industry inside the iconic Argonaut Building*, fueling a creative vibe that has revived the Midtown area with artists, musicians, hipsters and entrepreneurs. Beyond training the next generation of designers, artisans and craftspeople, the college’s renamed A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education houses a small manufacturing company — Shinola — that’s making its own mark on the Motor City.

Though Shinola has factories in other cities, it assembles its watches and bicycles entirely in Detroit. The Runwell, a limited edition wristwatch and the first timepiece built in Detroit, sold out within the first week through the company’s online shop, shinola.com. Before Father’s Day, another batch of watches from The Runwell series sold out within the first day.

The Runwell’s debut last spring made Shinola the first company in nearly 50 years to produce watches at scale in America, combining hand-assembly with advanced technology and quality parts.

Runwell Bike
Photography Courtesy of Shinola

“People want a product that has soul in it, that has story behind it, that they’re proud to wear,” notes Jacques Panis, the company’s president.

This fall, watch distribution will expand to specialty fashion and jewelry retailers, upscale department stores nationwide and Shinola flagship stores — including its newest in Midtown Detroit, which opened this June and became the new production base for the brand’s line of upscale bicycles, each also custom-assembled by hand.

The company hopes to cultivate a cottage industry of U.S.-based suppliers who will relocate here as well, helping to establish a new American manufacturing legacy.

“The people here are Detroiters — they’re craftspeople,” Panis says. “Their attention to detail is really what gives our products a heartbeat.”

Sleeping Bear Gallery Front Porch
While Sleeping Bear Gallery features a collective of unique art, owner Heather Caverly (above right, pictured with artisan Becky Willis) also hosts guest lectures and live demonstrations by featured artists. // Photography Courtesy of Rodger Skinner/Sleeping Bear Gallery

Timely Impact

Equally ignited centers of art, craft and invention, Shinola and the College for Creative Studies are now building upon one another’s contributions of innovation, quality and productivity.

Since launching at CCS in 2011, Shinola has been providing collaborative and immersive experiences for students. The company’s designers critique students’ work, and Shinola-sponsored courses in interior design, product design and branding expose CCS students to their future careers, shares Vince Carducci, CCS dean of undergraduate studies. Shinola offers internships and has hired students as well.

Learn more at collegeforcreativestudies.edu and shinola.com.

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