Potter Art Metal Studios” read the signs for the business, located since the 1920s at the corner of Central Expressway and Willis. “Extreme metal work.”
“We’re extreme because we’re out to create the best product,” says owner Richard Potter Jr. Not for him the shortcuts applied by others, who weld prefabricated parts together to fashion artsy pieces. The work that comes from Potter Studios bears the family’s 13th century English crest – and the assurance of an Old World-style craftsmanship rarely found today.
In Potter’s shop, artisans still undergo apprenticeships as they heat, shape, and finish metal by hand. There is pride in transforming plain metal rods and sheets into objects of beauty, Potter says, a sense of accomplishment that machinery and mass production would destroy.
In fact, all of Potter’s work is commissioned. Clients may arrive with vague desires or with sketches for a particular design. Potter helps to turn those ideas into reality. Working with all the common metals –“steel, brass, copper, bronze, aluminum, stainless,” he recites – he matches techniques to materials to design. “If we can’t do it, it probably can’t be done,” he tells his clients. And making things doable is a challenge Potter savors.
Witness the octagonal gazebo designed for a Highland Park home and featured in Potter Studios’ brochure. Not only does the structure contain a wealth of detail – animals clambering up four panels, an ornate table in the form of a vine-covered tree stump – but the chandelier, adorned with a grape vine, conceals a ceiling fan. Witness two chalices shaped through a process known as metal spinning in which metal is heated and shaped somewhat like clay on a potter’s wheel. It’s an old, time-consuming technique, which so far, only Potter has mastered.
The wide range of materials and techniques utilized in the studios to create everything from small ecclesiastical pieces to driveway gates and stair railings makes his shop unique in this part of the country, Potter says. His clients include individuals, churches, and commercial establishments such as Highland Park Village and Uncle Julio’s.
Potter literally grew into his business. His grandfather opened Potter Studios in the 1920s, eventually employing his own father and son, and producing metal pieces which continue to grace Dallas homes and businesses.
Potter spent many childhood hours in the shop, “bumping into things, most of it metal.”
Now the fourth generation Potter to work in the business, he has the pleasure of restoring or adding to pieces created by his grandfather. A current project involves refurbishing chairs originally produced for the De Gaulyers and now the property of the Dallas Arboretum.
“My grandfather and I were real close,” Potter says. Although the elder Potter passed away some 20 years ago, his grandson continues to feel his presence through the objects he created.
Potter’s love of metals extends to his charitable work. A number of years ago, he spotted two light standards outside the old Municipal Building downtown.
“People don’t notice them,” Potter says because years of neglect had hidden the luster of the bronze, and vandalism had claimed parts of the fixtures. But Potter saw the quality of the workmanship and decided to refurbish the fixtures.
With the help of Mayor Ron Kirk, a former neighbor, Potter succeeded in having the lights moved to his shop. He has begun recasting missing parts and cleaning years of tarnish off of the bronze.
“Bronze sparkles like gold,” Potter explains, as he displays a newly cleaned area. When the standards are reinstalled, Dallas will notice two glittering treasures outside of the historic building — and another Potter will have made yet another mark on the city.
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