Lewis Body was a "misfit artist" during his teen years in Michigan."I wasn't interested in school," he says.
Except art. His art teacher let him spend as much time as he wanted in the art department. "She gave me confidence because she saw something in me."
Now the owner of L. B. Metal Design in Memphis, metal sculptor/blacksmith Body, 27, recently completed two bus shelters for Athens, Georgia. He takes commissions for furniture, sculpture, and architectural metalwork. But, he says, "Public art is the main thing we're pushing."
- Lewis Body
Body began working with metal when he was 12. "I would find old Schwinn bikes in dumpsters, and I would chop them up and put long forks on them," he says. "And make goofy art bikes."
When he was 14, he got a job in a body shop, where he learned the basics of fabrication and how to weld.
His first metal sculpture was a 3-foot tree made of rebar, which he took to Metal Inc., an art fabrication studio. He was told, "It looks good, but what you need to do is spend time. Really look at a tree and study it. Study each part and what it does."
Body continued working on his tree, which he wanted to taper. "Working out how I was going to make it taper was what made me realize blacksmithing was even a thing," he says.
A man at Metal Inc. gave Body an old forge — and, eventually, a job.
- Eva Langsdon sits under “Synergy,” a bus shelter by metalsmith Lewis Body.
A year later, Body began apprenticing with master blacksmith Scott Lankton at Lankton Metal Design. "All the forging, blacksmithing techniques in the beginning were learned from him," he says.
That's when Body knew his career path. "As soon as I saw what blacksmithing could produce, it was over." He created a table and then progressed to more contemporary furniture and sculpture.
Body got numerous commissions, but after a year in business, he decided to sell his anvil, buy a plane ticket, and move to Hawaii, where he helped restore a 150-year-old Chinese temple.
After returning, almost a year later, to the mainland, Body began working at Bondi Metal Designs in Oakland, California. While there, he got an apprenticeship at the Metal Museum, which was "maybe the most important thing" he's done for his career. "It gave me the time and resources to develop my own style," which he describes as "minimalist" and "volumetric."
"It's not flat," he says. "Every dimension takes up space."
While at the museum, Body was chosen to do a public arts commission for a guard rail for Johnson City, Tennessee. "I'm grateful to the museum for that experience because they really let me take the reins on it," he says. "I did all the design work and coordinated with the builders and kind of led the fabrication in the museum shop."
He decided long ago to stay here. "I fell in love with Memphis through my time here," he says. "It's got a real charm to it."
Body moved all the machinery he'd collected over the years to a warehouse, which he converted to his blacksmith shop. He and his girlfriend, painter/metalsmith Eva Langsdon, who works with him, live in Midtown.
After the move, he got commissions for the Georgia bus shelters. "Synergy" is a contemporary minimalist design with a cantilever roof and a stainless steel bench. "Civic Sprout" is "inspired by a sprouting plant, but the forms are still pretty contemporary in nature," he says.
Body feels he's in a good place. "I couldn't ask for too much more."
As for Memphis, Body says, "I don't plan on leaving any time soon." But, he adds, "I'd like to retire to Hawaii."
L. B. Metal Design is at 309 West Olive Avenue; (248) 410-0765.