Sam the builder

Sam

Meet Sam.

Sam builds things. Designs things, too. Very nice things, in fact.

At heart, Sam is an artist. It shows.

For nearly a year now, Sam has been expressing himself through the El Moore, and the El Moore is much better because of it. Because of Sam. Take a close look at the walls in the cabins. Or at some of the fixtures. Take a look at the bunk beds in the basement.

Tom is in the building even when he’s not.

Sam first got involved with the El Moore by becoming somewhat of a regular at the weekly community lunch held every Friday at the Green Garage. He met Adrienne, who works for Red Panda, one of the businesses-in-residence there, and they became friends. Soon he met Tom Brennan which, as these things tend to happen, led to some further discussions which eventually led to him working at the El Moore doing what he loves to do. He started in December 2014.

“I had no idea it was going to last this long. I thought I was gonna be in here for maybe three weeks,” he said. But what Sam still remembers is how interested they all were in what he had to say. “It seemed like they were more interested in my input than any other job of this scale would be.”

So here it is the first day of October nearly a year later and they are still very interested in what Sam has to say. Looking back on how he got to where he is now, it seems a bit predestined in a way. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Sam went to school for Fine Arts, then went to school working for his mother who was a sheet metal worker.

“I grew up around tools. Making stuff. And watching my mother make stuff. I thought I wanted to be a potter. I was into clay for awhile. Then I got really interested in architecture and old buildings.”

“There’s a lot of construction work in Detroit right now. I found a good way to make a living while also maintaining an art practice. The intersection of those two is doing odd carpentry jobs and finishing jobs.”

But when asked whether it was the growth in construction that attracted him to Detroit, he wasn’t so sure that was it.

“I don’t know why I came here. My dad lived here for a long time in Woodbridge when he was in his 20s, then moved to Chicago, met my mom, had me. All of those stories he would tell when I was a kid of his crazy life were from here.”

So then why wouldn’t  he come, right?

Sam attended school in upstate New York, then later bounced around for a bit, eventually winding up in California, but something about California didn’t feel quite right. He had a friend living in Detroit, so he decided to go and visit with her for a couple days back in 2010.

“She lived on a block where everybody was like really involved in each other’s lives. The community was growing food and working on each others houses and had this really intense DIY (Do-It-Yourself) culture on Farnsworth and Moran.

“I just wanted to live in a place where that kind of lifestyle was possible.”

He lives back in that same area now.

Sam now has two business partners, and the business goes by the name of Thick Air Studios. His office is right next to the Temple Bar on Cass. They do all kinds of stuff, including public art for events like Detroit Design Festival and Dlectricity. He has been in Detroit for five years.

“You may have seen last summer a lot of people running around in hot pink jump suits? That was us. My art work has gone more towards performance, public interaction stuff.”

Hot pink jump suits, man.

Anyway, at the El Moore “I think I have two roles; one is to be like an all around sort of carpenter and handyman available to do whatever needs to be done on short notice. My other role was to take the material that was saved from the building and return it to use.”

“We repurposed most of the framing lumber, most of the two-by-fours and two-by-sixes from the original building” and used it as cladding, trim, framing, etc. Also for furniture and fixtures, which is what they’re starting to do now, he said.

“I’m really proud to be part of a building that has been renovated really well.”

That’s great, Sam, but now back to those hot pink jumpsuits…

About Keith Owens

Keith Owens is a freelance writer, columnist, blogger and musician whose most recent work has been featured in Model D Detroit, BLAC Detroit, and the national political affairs blog PoliticusUSA. He has also published three novels through Detroit Ink Publishing (www.detroitinkpublishing.com), the eBook publishing company he co-founded with his wife, Pamela Hilliard Owens. Keith and Pam live in a 100-year-old home in the Historic Boston-Edison District a few miles north of the El Moore.

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