Inside his Wilkinsburg studio, metalsmith Michael Studebaker makes incredible hand-forged metal goods. Each product, including bracelets, razors, keychains and combs, are made from brass, copper or silver.
Studebaker is passionate about his craft and committed to the hand-made process, using traditional tools and techniques, like a hammer and anvil, to create objects with the user in mind. Having been educated as a metalsmith with experience in architectural metalwork and training as a jeweler, Studebaker is focused on creating “objects we interact with daily” that are intended to last a lifetime.
In addition to being hand-forged most objects remain unpolished, left with a work patina- intentionally “finished like a tool.” The finishing touch, a stamp that reads, “Pittsburgh.” puts each piece over the top.
From the outside looking in, it might appear as though Studebaker struck gold – or maybe it was metal – on the first go round. It’s simple, right? Mix one part brilliant idea (hand-made metal goods) with equal parts talent (the kind you’re just born with). Sprinkle on a little luck. And there you have it, Studebaker gets to kick it in his studio all day and make stuff.
Sure, that storyline is convenient. Trouble is, it’s also untrue. As every maker knows, or will soon find out, pursuing our muse, honing our craft and making it our livelihood is the furthest thing from a eureka moment.
It took me a while to figure out how to apply my passion to something useful.
That’s how Studebaker summed up the bulk of his creative journey. He told us that, after studying Metalsmithing (who knew?) at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, he spent five years trying to figure out how to apply his passion and skill set. During that time he worked in a commercial jewelry store and architectural metalwork, before moving on to work as a mount maker at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
At this point, some five years and three gigs later, Studebaker recalls things starting to click: “I fell in love with brass as a medium, and grew my appreciation for the centuries old traditions of hand-forged metal work, and its continued cultural relevance.” When Studebaker combined that realization with the recognition of rising trend, he knew he was onto something.
That trend was, as Studebaker puts its, an “appreciation of hand made, well made objects – particularly ones made in the USA.” Upon this discovery, Studebaker did what he does, he made something. He told us that lots of people were making belts, but not as many people were making buckles. “So, I made a buckle.” He said. “Then, while making a buckle, I realized I was also making a cuff bracelet. Then the ball really got rolling.”
A “Lucky” Break
There’s a saying from the Stoic philosopher Seneca that reads, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Here, in Studebaker’s case, those words ring true. As is the case among other artists, entrepreneurs and creatives who end up making something that we use, appreciate or admire. The lucky break, or, what outsiders perceive to be an overnight success, was a long time coming. Well earned. And well deserved.
As Studebaker began riding the wave of momentum created by his belt buckles, he met his wife Alyssa. That’s when, as Studebaker puts it, “the business became real.” Alyssa, who is a partner and co-founder of Studebaker Metals, builds out the catalog of products, generates new ideas and then executes the web presence.
Now, as a result of all that preparation meeting opportunity, the work of this Pittsburgh-based metalworker, and his wife, is available in seven countries across the globe, at national retailers here in the U.S. and on some great websites as well.