Made In Eastern Iowa: A solo operation in Marion for math, art and heat
Tucked deep inside of Marion and the city's curious mix of retail and residential just west of downtown, the north side of Cara Briggs Farmer's garage reveals the knowledge, precision and creativity within.
"My first career was as a scenic carpenter and a stagehand so I was designing stages in Minneapolis," said Briggs Farmer, an Iowa native and a UNI graduate. "I did not know how to weld."
Now the welding makes up the most dramatic action inside Synergy Metalworks, the garage that serves as her den of creativity, about 50 feet from her backdoor.
"Like every good Iowa student, I ran away," said Briggs Farmer. "And then I wandered back. I was kind of burned out on building other people's vision and I wanted to make art on my own terms."
Her website (www.synergy-metalworks.com) shows off that vision, how a mere piece of scrap metal can, through math and engineering principles plus copious heat off a welder, leads to the final product. A wall sconce torch ($117), a tabletop torch ($69.50) or more decorative pieces, such as steel and glass screens ($445) that feature a more distinct and vivid color.
"Go to Marion Iron, dig through the scrap yard and see what is going to work," said Briggs Farmer of her pursuit for the product.
Once Cara breaks out the welder - and all of the protective equipment - that's when the math and the planning takes a much more base turn.
"It's satisfying, that's why I do the work that I do. I can weld all day but, if nobody likes it, I don't have a job."
We asked her if welding was a lost art.
"I don't know that it is. I think more of a lost art is math and doing the mathematics that goes into this. You're looking at a series of rations in there and people just not valuing working with their hands."
Cara showed us the process of welding and assembling a tabletop torch.
"This is a wine bottle torch, like a Tiki torch," said Briggs Farmer. "Reclaimed wine bottle and bolted into this frame and fill it with kerosene."
After wrenching the metal into the ideal shape in a vice, Cara brings the piece over for welding, the sparks shooting off the metal.
This pursuit is one - like so many in 2016 - where the customer wants a piece that is custom -- and Cara works with that vision to fill homes for conversation pieces.
"I have a four-year degree and, certainly, if I had known I was going to do this, I would have gone to a trade school and gotten a certificate."
Cara's work is available through her website -- www.synergy-metalworks.com and can also be viewed at Art Cellar and Phelan's Interiors in Cedar Rapids.