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Community Highlights: Meet Brett Barney of American Fine Arts Foundry

Today we’d like to introduce you to Brett Barney.

Hi Brett, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
I was raised around makers. My father always had projects underway that ranged from furniture making to home remodeling projects. Then for a couple of years in grade school, we lived near my grandparents and my grandfather who had recently retired would pick me up after school and we would do projects. They were typical of any 3rd grader’s skill level but most importantly, I learned to work with tools and I learned the process of making things. In high school, I learned sculpting and metal casting working in a dental lab followed by working in a custom yacht manufacturing facility. I managed small businesses in my early career and then found my way into several leading hi-tech companies. One was a leader in 3D graphical computing, another was Dell Computers, and then lastly a startup in Asia that partnered with US companies to run their Asia Pac subsidiaries. The experience at these companies gave me an incredible opportunity to learn world-class manufacturing practices while also traveling the globe to do business.

Somewhere along the way, I started to burn out on the travel, and to regain my sanity, I started designing and making hi-end furniture. This turned into a true passion and I began looking for a way to create a day job from my new hobby so I could spend time raising my family. After several false starts, I was serendipitously introduced to the former owner of American Fine Arts Foundry and two years later, I took over the company. What I discovered about myself is that more than designing furniture, I enjoy helping others realize their visions and have settled into my role as Chief Collaborator as well as CEO of the company. I am now the owner of this venerable 45 years old company and still close to Elliot Midwood, the original founder.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Is there such a thing as a smooth road in small business? I took over the business in 2004 excited by realizing a dream. Four months into it my wife Annie was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. So I had a brand new business I was still learning, a new staff, a wife with cancer and a one-year-old daughter. I had to get very efficient with my time quickly and while the business was important, my focus became caring for my wife and daughter. I was blessed with the team that came with the company and they all showed up to help me, a near complete stranger to them, make the company work. Special recognition goes out to Angel, Sandra, and Mario still with me today, for their gracious support and commitment.

We managed to grow the business for the first four years as we cleaned up our processes, invested in our team of artisans, and focused on attracting the right kind of customers for our skill sets.

In 2008 the economy started crashing and we watched sales slow to a drip. Late in the same year, my wife passed away and I was now helping my five years old daughter grapple with the loss of her mother. Only by pulling together as a team did we survive as a company. Initiated by the production crew, everyone on the team brought their own faith practice to the survival of the company and we were blessed with miracle projects and customers showing up out of the blue. We lit candles, some prayed, I meditated, and we all focused on creating positive energy in the shop. It was rough times but it worked. Many of those customers and employees are still with me today.

Since 2008 we have tightened up operations, focused again on what we do best, and committed ourselves to bring the best talent and professionalism to our clientele.

We’ve been impressed with American Fine Arts Foundry, Inc., but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
We are a world-class foundry and fabrication partner providing our services to leading artists around the world. We started as a bronze foundry and that is still our heritage. Over the years, artists like to push in new directions and we do ourselves to be side-by-side with them by expanding our services and abilities. We can produce pedestals for monumental scale works. I often think of us as the biggest little foundry as put out a tremendous amount of work for the size shop we have.

We are known for our portfolio of patinas and the myriad ways we have developed to colorize metal, especially bronze. We range from traditional hot patinas all the way to super high-end custom paint akin to a Ferrari. While it may not be obvious, one of our best skills is coordinating the talent of our team to realize the desired result for the customer. This is not an easy task as a project moves through 10 different stages in the process. The team has learned to own and be accountable for their own work before pushing it forward to the next department.

We take pride in helping our customers solve problems. My background in 3D computing has led us naturally into developing processes for direct casting 3D prints. In fact, as a foundry, we were the very first to leverage the Voxeljet large format printer for fine art reproduction through “lost-print” casting.

We have had the pleasure to participate in projects that range across all genres from street art to fine figurative work including the only known sculpture to exist by the master Leonardo Davinci.

I am most proud of the culture of our company which speaks to the people and their individual talent and the positive attitude they show up with every day.

What matters most to you? Why?
Integrity. The casting process requires us to reproduce the artist’s original in new material. We need to maintain the integrity of the sculptor’s original vision, execution, and details in an exacting way. Our place is not to interpret but to replicate to the best of our ability. We also treat our customers with integrity and run a “no-BS” shop by communicating with our customers to understand nuances and expectations, to keep our schedules, and to solve problems.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
JD Hansen Warner Bros./DC Comics/City of Burbank Randy Puckett Scott Hansen Antony Micallef

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