Director of Metal Arts
A native of Birmingham, Marshall Christie is Director of Metal Arts at Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark. For over four years, he has collaborated with numerous entities to continue the development of a metal arts program with local and national acclaim, including Vulcan Park and Museum, Talledega Superspeedway and Alabama Power. Christie studied architecture at Mississippi State University and is a skilled wood-worker. He served seven years as Project Architect with Dungan-Nequette Architects and four years managing his own furniture design/build company aMcBUILT. While working to improve the art casting facilities at Sloss Furnaces and further develop its educational programming, Christie has become a prominent mentor for the next generation of metal artists, guiding such notable young artists as Ajene Williams, 2016's Magic City Arts Connection Emerging Artist of the Year and empowering young artists across Birmingham.
Williams began his art training while attending Woodlawn High School, where he was taught and mentored by Jena Momenee. Momenee enrolled him in the Summer Youth Program at Sloss Furnaces, where he was quickly recognized as a gifted artist, winning first place in the program’s exhibition. Thereafter, Williams was invited to work at Sloss Furnaces in 2011 as a paid intern. He currently holds the prestigious title of Artist in Residence at Sloss Furnaces.
As a child, Ajene wanted to be a magician, “but I was never very good,” he says. It didn’t take long for him to realize that it wasn’t the magician’s equipment that made illusions, but rather the way the magician would use his hands. “Hands are magic,” he explains, “We can create anything with our hands, if we are able to imagine it.” Williams is gifted at manifesting exactly what he sees in perfect proportion, perfect harmony. Yet, he no longer seeks to create illusion with his magic. Now, he seeks only to show the world’s deepest, most often missed truths.
During the past twenty year period, Joe McCreary has exhibited sculpture nationally in both solo and group shows and his work has been included in several permanent collections. For the past fifteen of those years, McCreary has introduced many artists to the process of casting. He has taught introductory sculpture classes at The University of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham as well as teaching casting and fabrication classes at Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark. For the past two years McCreary has been working at Birmingham’s Museum of Art and holds art degrees from the University of Southern Mississippi and The University of Alabama. His work deals with issues of scale, history, and humor.
Forrest Millsap began his career in metal as an assistant for the Sloss summer youth program beginning at age nineteen. He received a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, with a concentration in sculpture and ceramics. Throughout college and immediately after, he honed his skills by working with different metal artists, blacksmiths, and architectural design/fabrication firms around Birmingham. Forrest now runs a small custom metal shop with his brother.
Garrett Millsap has been involved in and around the metal art community since an early age. During his education at Homewood High School he spent his summers participating in the Sloss Furnace Summer Youth Apprenticeship program where he honed his skills under pattern makers, welders, wood workers, ceramicists and other tradesman. After graduating he decided to further his education in other fields whilst still volunteering his time to the foundry, whether it be helping during casting workshops or general maintenance to the space. He worked with a custom architectural signage shop in the greater Birmingham area for the better part of a decade learning the finer details of basic high/ low voltage wiring, heavy machinery operation and the industrial engineering of large freestanding and load bearing structures. He took these skills and experiences and traveled to Austin TX where he applied them at a high end signage and art company where they manufactured many famous icons in and around the downtown area. Since then he has returned to the Birmingham area to start up a small custom metal and architectural design company with his brother.
Visting Artist - Summer Session-2020
I have an aversion to modern technology and so allow my interest in folklore, and stories or skills from the past to inspire my material choices, and making techniques. After breaking a leg falling off the top pf my van , I was stuck on the sofa for two months and discovered the National school of Blacksmithing. When fixed I left London and trained here for three years… and so began my love of working metal.
My recent practice has looked at researching ancient techniques and tooling, for example a major body of work has been on learning how to extract my own iron from ore, to then use sculpturally. Im interested in controlling the whole cycle of making from start to finish. The idea of manipulating these skills or adapting them to make commentary on how we exist today, in comparison with the past, is a key concern
I have also become interested in the performative nature of using and making tools and idea of creating an art event, or activity, where by people meet and share an experience through contact with the items I make. This has led me to explore ways of exhibiting the physical act of creating work as a performance, thus blending the boundaries between making and final piece.
A sense of humour and a genuine interest in connecting with people through my art is key. Current work is involved in the formation of unusual groups or societies which act as a platform for people to meet and the unknown to occur. Self titling as a ‘fan girl’ reflects the OCD tendencies in my work and the levels of detail I am willing to go to in my process based work.
Archived VAR Artists
Visting Artist - Fall Session-2019
Lily Reeves’ sculptural work encourages emotional and physical well-being through a holistic lens of personal, societal, and environmental healing. She uses light, space, immersive installations, and audience-participatory performance as a tool to address spiritual chasms within contemporary culture, working to spark wonder and openness in a world that is increasingly disenchanted. Her aesthetic language utilizes an uncanny and supernatural kind of magical realism, a style galvanized through growing up in the American Southeast. With her practice, Reeves positions the audience as the performer, creating a space for viewers to undergo meaningful gestures that have an impactful, transformative effect on the psyche. These gestures intend to counteract destructive practices that have wreaked havoc on the ecosystem, the individual, and the collective consciousness.
Reeves earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Alfred University in 2015 and her Masters in Fine Art from Arizona State University in Phoenix, AZ, where she graduated in April 2018. In 2019, Reeves was awarded the NOVA Emerging artists award from the FRESCO foundation, and the SAXE Emerging Artist Fellowship from the Glass Art society. She currently lives and works in Birmingham, Alabama, where she runs her art and design studio, Reeves Studios, full time.
Visting Artist - Summer Session-2019
I am an observer a collector and builder making sculpture and objects that are informed by my environment and ideas. I think of my studio as a mental and physical gymnasium where my material collections, be it new stock, freshly made castings or previously unused and discarded metal parts are combined with ideas and worked out. I use materials that have a ubiquitous presence in the world and have an inherent recyclable value. By manipulating the scale and functionality of objects of recognizable imagery and transforming them my intention is to tell stories through sculpture while exploring these shifts int the identity of objects. My constructs are simultaneously familiar yet unique and point to the liminal space of the in between and of transformation. They live somewhere within the familiar and the unknown. This idea mirrors the human condition and how many of us make our way in the world sometimes fitting in while at other times standing out.
Visting Artist - Spring Session-2018
Gwen Yen Chiu is a Chicago based artist who creates artwork that uses abstracted images of the human form in order to critique and mimic multitudes of human emotion, gesture and interactions. She attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she originally studied fashion, and quickly fell in love with metals and changed her academic course under the mentorship of Gabriel Akagawa and Daniel Matheson. She currently works under Eric Stephenson, at Lunarburn Studios in Chicago. Through her experiences with Stephenson, she honed her skills working on large public works, fabrication, welding and fitting, mold making, and all aspects of foundry.
Her work often includes the process of orchestrating different materials, including but not limited to, the casting and fabrication of metals, fabrics, plastics, technology, eccetera, which assist her to comment on the feelings of displacement and ‘weights’ of everyday life. Through enhancing abstracted figures with fantasy prosthetics and bodily appendages, She strives to create a visual language which addresses the strange and obscure, surrealism, and ideas on distorted psychology.
Visiting Artist- Fall Session 2018
In our contemporary landscape, industrial and natural elements commonly oppose each other through mankind's actions and they are doing so at an expedited rate in today’s fast- paced, throw-away culture. Products of lasting quality and beauty have become less and less common in contemporary times. As the longevity of everyday objects dwindle, so does the lifespan of overlooked structures that support the infrastructures mankind has come to rely on. Tools, bridges, water towers, and other monolithic structures are symbols of mankind’s progress and used to transcend generations needing little maintenance or replacement. Yet today are ending up thrown away or scrapped at higher rates.
The abstracted forms I create are informed by these industrial structures and the natural environment, leading to a subtle commentary on the permanence and impermanence of humanity’s impact. The processes and machinery that lead to their creation and the permanence or impermanence of their existence are inherently beautiful to me. I am left in a state of wonderment when I see natural formations or feats of humanity's ingenuity.
Through process, materials, texture, and composition I make objects that connect with the viewer and leave them with a similar sense of beauty and wonderment. I try to capture the feelings I find in the forces and materials that commonly oppose each other through the use of my own constructions as well as found objects. I find it important to make objects that transcend traditional boundaries and division between not just the people who view my work but the materials and content within the work itself.