By Alicia Stemper/Vitamin O
Metal and wood artist Elsa Hoffman works out of a barn/studio hybrid she built with her good friend George Allen and the help of others on a 40 acre grain farm in Mebane. They used wood milled from trees on the property. “I never built a building before – it feels really good to be in a space that you built completely.” It is an unassuming yet dramatic space with huge 14×6 orange doors at one end and a large metal cutout of a bird on the opposite wall.
Elsa originally worked with wood, making custom furniture, and she found the idea of working with metal unattractive. However, several years ago, she got frustrated trying to make an intricate design in the metal of a burn barrel for a Halloween party. A friend introduced her to the plasma cutter, “a handheld torch used for cutting metal.” Immediately, Elsa knew the plasma cutter was her thing. “It was like magic.” The plasma cutter is a relatively new device which essentially heats up metal and blows it away, allowing the cutter to function as a drawing tool. The oxyacetylene torch is its ancestor, but the plasma cutter is more precise and maneuverable, characteristics Elsa values. She said, “I always liked the aesthetic of paper cutouts but I hated the fragility.” The plasma cutter allows her an approximation of that aesthetic. “You can make lacey work that’s pretty strong.”
Elsa practiced extensively, drawing designs and then cutting them out of metal. A collection of her early experiments hangs on one wall. An admirer of the traditional pie safe, a classic southern cabinet, Elsa “started incorporating cut metal panels into my furniture.” Additionally, with her best friend Katy Coury, Elsa has a design collaboration called Agauche. One element of that collaboration is handcrafted “rustic bling” jewelry they make using salvaged metal.
Elsa thinks of the color green when she thinks of Orange County. Of the corn out by her farm, she said, “In a while it’s going to be taller than us and it becomes like big green corridors – I like that time of year.”