Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Local News

June 30, 2013

Manufacturing an image in Kokomo

How Kokomo is incorporating the arts into its history as a manufacturing city

“I’m a manufacturer at heart; I love the feel of walking onto a factory floor,” Nancy Braun said with earnest sincerity for the job that brought her to Kokomo 21 years ago. 

“For both of us, there’s a certain buzz you get when you work on a plant floor,” David Braun added. “I grew up around steel mills and manufacturing always has been around, sort of in blood.” 

For many, Kokomo is a city that operates on nuts and bolts. It’s a city that built its name on Delphi, Chrysler and Haynes International. Although a working factory line gives the City of Firsts its heartbeat, it’s how the city is filling its soul that gives Nancy and David Braun something to relate to on an even deeper level. 

The Brauns are artists who found each other, and a passion for art developed from the products they worked with every day inside the factory walls of Delphi. The couple share impressive degrees – a master’s degree in developmental biology for Nancy and a master’s degree in engineering for David – but the endless need to create has earned them a spot in front of City Hall by creating a visual metaphor for how Kokomo is merging the arts with its history in manufacturing. 

The couple build elaborate art pieces with gears, steel parts and recycled fabrication products in their basement. The same parts they used to pour over as they studied how to make them work more efficiently; the same products they used to help build cars. Their art-meets-industry style, which was honed during their tenure at Delphi, has found its way to venues in Canada, children’s museums and all over the country. However, David said, earning the bid to be the artists creating the city’s newest sculpture, titled “When the Earth Moves,” in front of City Hall is their proudest opportunity to encourage people to realize art doesn’t always require a brush. 

“We were trying to think how we could get a piece together that expresses we’re all grounded to the Earth, we’re a grounded community, but we want people to see that they have the opportunity to create as well, and take that creative force to lift up the creativity in what our city is doing,” David said about the piece’s direction. 

David said the sculpture is made with the parts he worked with daily at Delphi. It also represents the parts Kokomo’s manufacturers work with and see every day. It’s meant to inspire people to understand skilled trades are an artform. 

“It’s a steel piece with gears and glass inserts from Kokomo Opalescent. It shows how we’re connected to the great power of Earth — as it moves, we’re moving with it — and how to tap into that resource of understanding that not everything has to be for me, not everything has to be the way you expect,” David said. 

And through the unexpected, David and Nancy are making men and women who work with their hands, welding and creating automotive parts by day, artists too. 

“Skilled trades are always using their hands. When we show what they can do with those skills, it creates lots of room for opportunity to make Kokomo a really unique place,” David said. “It’s also getting people to think about art differently. Art is a very creative thing, sometimes the fear of judgment stops people from going, but art is in [unexpected places].” 

David said he hopes the welding and skilled trades techniques used to design and create the sculpture will not just merge Kokomo’s history in manufacturing with the arts, but also renew the history of welding, which David and Nancy say is a lost art. 

“Someone who welds for a living may not even realize welding is out of folk art. We’ve lost that and welding as an art is becoming less and less,” David said. “We have immense skill trades who really know how to work with their hands and we want to help them to see that they can say, ‘I’m not going to just make a car, I’m also going to make this really cool piece of art.’”

However, like many artists, the Brauns’ vision for Kokomo welds together more than metals, the Brauns are passionate about seeing a community welded together through unexpected art.

“I wish we could have something where we have art that’s movable in different places in downtown. We could build it in a couple days and match welders with people who never welded before,” David said. 

“Art can be so interactive here; it’s the experiences we see that makes art and to combine local unions with local artists would be a huge collaboration of the arts,” Nancy added. “Bringing those worlds together would spawn something great for [Kokomo’s future].”

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