Friday, May 21, 2010

Celebrating over 25 years in White Rock

Read the White Rock Lake Weekly article by Shari Stern: 



Walking into Potter Art Metal Studios is like being transported to another country – Italy, Poland, maybe Germany. That’s because the craft dates back to the Old World. Graceful stairways, idyllic fountains, rustic lanterns, spectacular light fixtures, functional tables that are works of art, dramatic etageres, life-like animal sculptures, unique sconces, bird houses, pot racks and so much more in this treasure trove evoke pure awe. It is a melting pot of cultures, just like our city. When Alexander Potter stepped off the boat into America, he brought his knowledge of Old World hand metalworking with him, settled in East Dallas, and passed the craft along to his son, Henry. Neighbors of the pioneering artisan admired the lights he crafted for his porch, and wanted to purchase his lanterns. Not being a trophy wife, Mrs. Potter showed the product to a buyer at Sanger Brothers Department Store (precursor to Sanger Harris), who placed an order for 100 lanterns. The Potters had turned Henry’s hobby of making small wrought iron lanterns in his East Dallas garage into a thriving business. 
Today, Alexander’s great-grandson, Richard Potter, is president of the privately held company, celebrating 90 years in business this year. This family has the formula down. A fifth-generation Dallasite, Richard lives by White Rock, where, while biking around the lake, he enjoys seeing his studio’s art as part of the tranquil scenery. Potter chief artist and designer, Izabela Wojcik, who is originally from Poland, also lives by the lake, and is a graduate of Lake Highlands High School. 
Some of Potter’s pieces at White Rock Lake, many of which have been there for generations, include bridge and post lanterns, sconces for the Sunset House, and sconces for the Big Thicket, along with its chandeliers, which were created by Richard’s grandfather, and restored by Richard. Recently, the original lights on the bridge at Garland Road that Alexander built were not working because vines were growing inside them. So Richard kept after the City to trim the vines until the lights worked again. Potter does its own gas and electrical wiring.
Potter’s art graces some of the most recognizable Dallas homes, as well as high-end residential and commercial projects, including homes, municipal buildings and churches around the country. One of the oldest metal studios in the Southwest, Potter Art Metal Studios’ work can be seen at the historic Clifford Hutsell and Charles Dilbeck homes in Lakewood, Trammell Crow’s home, the Highland Park Library, the Town of Highland Park and Fair Park. Other projects include Highland Park United Methodist Church, the Hunt Oil building, Stoneleigh Hotel and Christ the King Catholic Church. Much of this d├ęcor, fashioned from steel, brass, bronze, copper and aluminum, will become heirlooms through the years.
Filling orders around the country, Potter sends a team of artisans to a location where they work as long as it takes to get the job done – sometimes a few weeks, with a recent project in Aspen, where they created and installed copper lighting, chandeliers and fireplace screens. For a job in San Francisco, a team first went to take measurements.
They came back and built an interior stair railing and exterior balcony and stair rails in the shop, then went back to install them. They had a Golden Gate Bridge view while working, which took most of the summer. Somebody’s got to do it!
“The metal artisans enjoy what they do. They like working with raw metal, copper, brass, glass and creating functional art. They are nit-picky on quality. I let them make their own decisions,” Richard said.
“I have enough trained artisans to oversee helpers.”
Of Potter’s 30 employees, one of whom has been with him for 15 years, most are from European countries, including Poland, Germany and Czechoslovakia.  

“We work with so many different kinds of people. We created the six-foot-tall bell tower, crafting copper finials on four corners, on the Cathedral of Guadalupe downtown on Ross and Pearl, where my grandfather got married.” Potter continued, “I’ve carried on working for churches in which my grandfather built the original altars.”
Potter said the business’ mission is to continue to design the finest in metalwork and functional art – “jewelry for the home.”
Potter, who flew helicopters right up until he crashed one, attended St. Marks School of Texas, before graduating from Highland Park High School. He earned a business degree from SMU.
He grew up in his grandfather’s, then his father’s shop, creating his first metal art when 11-years-old. He lost his grandfather while in his early 20s. Potter’s 21-year-old triplets work in the studio during the summer. His daughter, who graduated from Bishop Lynch High School, is at the University of Colorado. One son goes to Texas Tech and the other attends Richland College.                “I know I’m fortunate to work at what I enjoy, and to have people around me who love their work, too. I have a great team of talented, loyal artisans who bring unique backgrounds and finely-honed skills to our creations.”
Potter Art Metal Studios is located at 4827 Memphis Street, Dallas, Texas 75207.  The showroom and studio are open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and closed Saturday and Sunday. For more information, visit www.potterartmetal.com or call 214-821-1419.