Two Ridgway Artists Share A Building And A Passion
by Deb Dion Kees
The building at 609 Clinton Street is weathered, and the wooden floorboards creak when people pass over them. From the outside, the structure looks more historical than industrial, but when you step inside there is a faint smell of machinery and metal in the air, and also a little bit of creative magic.
Upstairs, artist Lisa lssenberg of Kiitella is busy polishing metal in her studio, and in the basement workshop, artist John Billings stands among a tall pile of boxes ready to be shipped. They each have their own business, but they share something in common besides the building and working as artists: They both make awards.
Kiitella creates custom awards for the outdoor industry — from national skiing events including the U.S. Alpine Championships, the Audi Birds of Prey World Cups, U.S. Freeskiing & Snowboarding National Championships, and a host of other outdoor events, to non-profits such as The American Alpine Club, American Mountain Guides Association, American Avalanche Association, and American Mountaineering Museum, to outdoor product manufacturers prAna, The North Face, and Marmot, to donor recognition walls and many local organizations where she got her introduction to the award-making business — her first award commission was for Telluride Mountainfilm in 1994.
lssenberg custom designs each piece, and fabricates using both industrial and hand techniques. The main material is metal — steel, brass, or bronze — and often incorporates other materials. Because they are handcrafted, each piece is slightly different, or “delightfully imperfect,” says lssenberg. “I’m so thankful the Japanese have an official term for this: wabi-sabi.”