Athena Magazine

Fashion, lifestyle, passions

John T. Unger Studios: Exceptionally created recycled firepits February 12, 2009

Submitted by Marjorie Cunningham: Designer of Marjorie’s Cracked Plate Jewelry and Manager of the Reclaimed to Fame Market

Is there a more wonderful way to spend an evening with friends and loved ones than gathered together outside around a warm entrancingly beautiful firepit?  John T. Unger of Mancelona, Mich., is an artist who creates one-of-a-kind firepits that are works of art.  The flames are drawn free hand so no two firepits are exactly alike.  Each piece is signed by the artist.  And best of all, John hand cuts each firepit from 100% recycled steel.  John talks about his strong belief in recycling and about himself and his art:

“I’m best known as an artist and designer, but relaxing makes me tense, so I tend to put in a lot of hours on diverse projects.   I’ve been making art professionally since about 1995, and have made a full-time living as an artist since 2000.   On the way to a successful art career I’ve been a poet and writer, a tech geek, a print and web designer, illustrator, industrial designer, musician, teacher, actor, set designer and even a paid guru once.   I like to joke that I’m the world’s most well-educated self-taught artist— I’ve learned pretty much everything I know by doing it.  It’s all the same thing in the end—I wake up most days thinking about how I want to change, fix or improve some aspect of the world.  And after a couple cups of coffee I get started on it.  The best way to get a real sense of who I am and what I’ve done is probably to check out my blog or portfolio at  Feel free to email me or call my mobile between 9-5 pacific time at 231.584.2710.  I’m friendly.

Art has been good to me, and I feel very lucky to have been able to pursue what interests me on my own terms.  As an artist, I am also a small business owner who supports a family, pays taxes, and supports other local businesses through the sale of my firepits.  I have a part-time assistant who depends on the income I provide him to make his house payment.   I buy the materials for my firebowls at the scrapyard, paying a premium to have them cut and delivered (I’ve spent over $10,000 at the scrapyard this year alone).  I am one of the larger customers for my local freight company and am pleased to be able to pass along my 75% savings to you.  There are not a lot of successful businesses or job opportunities in the area of Michigan where I live, and the income I make from my art and spend in the community is important to the people I support.  The fact that I am able to sell my work globally and bring money into the Michigan economy (one of the worst in the nation) is something that I am very proud of and I feel pretty good about the fact that I can help people pay their bills while larger corporate companies are laying people off left and right.

About the Art: I believe that surprise and beauty are a good start, but I expect more and so should you.  As an artist and designer, I am intensely committed to sustainable design practices and materials in the following ways: I work primarily with recycled or re-used materials.  This is the best way I know to minimize my impact on natural resources, climate and the environment.   In addition, I feel that creative re-use has the potential to spark new ways of looking at the world… if one thing can be turned into another, what else can we change?  Successful recycled art and design encourages creativity in others— it’s alchemical, magical, subversive, and transformative by nature.  I feel that only be a good thing.

I design for permanence. Most of my objects will last generations with little or no maintenance.  I try to create objects that will never go out of style by drawing from primal metaphor and classical elements of design that speak to what it means to be human and alive.  When I can, I like to throw some surprise or humor in the mix too.

I design for functionality.  My work is intended to be useful as well as beautiful. I enjoy the engineering aspect of art as much as the creative part, and it’s very important to me to make things which work better or more easily than mass produced items. When possible, I design for easy disassembly for shipping or later re-use of materials.

My creative mandate is “sustainable design with an edge.”  Just because we’re good doesn’t mean we have to be boring, right?  I think there’s a place for rock n’ roll to dance with environmental responsibility in a house shakin’ way.  If green products are to compete in the market, they need to be sexy, sleek and chic—cooler than new.”

Visit John T. Unger Studios at


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