Juan Fried: A Metalsmith with an Eye for Architecture and Ancestry
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Juan Fried: A Metalsmith with an Eye for Architecture and Ancestry

Metalarchill jewelry. Photo courtesy the artist

In anticipation of the Walker’s Jewelry & Accessory Makers Mart on Saturday, October 12, we highlight some of the 26 local makers and artists whose hand-crafted designs will be on display and for sale.

Founded by architect and designer Juan Fried in 2014 after a lifetime of interest in sculpture, Metalarchill is a neologism that combines “metal” and “Larchill,” the historic name of the larch-lined, hilltop homestead in Waterford Township where he lives and works.

What is your background?

I was born and raised in Venezuela. My parents were Hungarian and Basque, and we emigrated to the United States when I was 11. I studied art history and architecture and worked as an architect and urban designer in Chicago for 30 years, the majority of time as a principal in a successful, award-winning design firm. We went back home to Minnesota to help care for family and moved to my wife’s grandfather’s farm homestead, where I now work full time as a metalsmith—something I always dreamed of doing.

How did you form Metalarchill?

I’ve always been interested in making sculpture—smaller-scale versions of architectural ideas about form, space, and place. When I was in Chicago I took a couple of metalsmithing classes at LillStreet Center but didn’t have much time to make things. Back in Minnesota, I formed Metalarchill in 2014 in anticipation of that year’s SNAG (Society of North American Goldsmiths) conference held in Minneapolis. I made a few rudimentary pieces of jewelry to feature on my new website. I got great feedback and support from so many people I met at the conference and decided to make metalsmithing my next career.

What was the first piece you made?

A pendant for my wife. She loves moonstones. I bought some on eBay, and I took my first metalsmithing class to learn how to solder the setting for the stone. I ended up learning a lot of basic techniques. My wife is now the greatest collector and model of my work.

Can you describe the process of making a new piece?

I have a set of components that are a part of my repertoire—cubes, grids, structures. I make sure to design and make them so they are as modular and adaptable as possible. I then combine them to create final pieces. 

How do you blend architecture and ancestry in your work?

I feel the blending of architecture and ancestry in my work is mostly subconscious. I grew up in a house filled with very contemporary art and furniture, and because we had family in Europe, we traveled as often as we could and I was exposed to an aesthetic philosophy that was modern and minimalist.

In Venezuela, I grew up with the structures and equipment of petroleum production—derricks, pumpjacks, pipelines. And now here in Minnesota, I’m surrounded by the artifacts of our agricultural industry.

As an architect and artist, I’m always looking for the large- and small-scale interrelationships of natural and man-made forms and structures. I make small, wearable sculptures based on the dynamic geometric and architectural shapes that surround me. The hoppers, chutes, bins, and their supporting structures create vessels and conduits for the seasonal cycles of fuel, water, and food—industrial extensions of the natural systems of streams, soils, and plants that define the Minnesota rural environment in which I live.

There are ancestral themes that emerge in my work. The visual influences of my family’s seafaring history, the massive steel works that defined the ultra-industrial landscape of my mother’s hometown in Basque Spain, the aggressive gothic of my father’s Hungary, are unavoidable in what I make.

What was your first exhibition, and how did that impact you?

I’ve participated in several juried exhibitions since 2014, but they were all too far away and I couldn’t attend them. The first one I attended was in Chicago this year. We were all artists who had become makers later in life, after working in other careers. When we met and exchanged life stories, the connection was instantaneous.

Also this year, my potter wife, her photographer mother, and I put together a group show in Owatonna. Seeing our work together was a wonderful validation of our relationship and the power of creativity in all our lives. 

What’s one valuable thing you’ve learned through your metalsmithing career?

That it’s never too late to start something new.

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