By Pete Freedman
Best Of Dallas
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As he gives a tour of his metal shop, it takes Brad Oldham some time to describe exactly what it is he does.
Partly because he is passionate about his work, partly because he is paid to craft and forge and construct so many different metal things, well, he's got some splainin' to do.
Oldham goes into great detail about each piece of metalwork you come across in his shop. He excitedly notes that the heavy, ornate doorknobs to your left were fashioned as part of the historical restoration of the Parker County Courthouse in Weatherford, and he tells how many layers of paint he had to peel through to discover the knobs' original color. He spins to his left and begins describing the 135-pound eagles he's crafting for the restoration of the Harrison County Courthouse. He takes two steps and introduces some of his seven full-time employees. He circles the workshop, pointing out hinges and cabinet pulls and sculpture. He takes a dip of molten pewter and whips up some special-order coins. He shows off the plan for the donor recognition statue he'll unveil at Presbyterian Hospital on behalf of The Shiu Society.
These items and more he discusses in an attempt to explain what he does, why he's given up the fashion industry that he once worked in with his brother (Todd Oldham), why his kids draw pictures of him that pose him as a superhero called Metal Man.
"Basically," he says, trying to sum up, "we do the stuff you can't find anyone else to do."
Oldham (and, by extension, his employees) is a metallurgical jack-of-all-trades. For public entities that need restoration (usually courthouses), his company, Phoenix Restoration and Construction Ltd., asks Oldham's division to re-create the hinges, doorknobs, sculpture and other hard-to-produce architectural touches common in historic buildings. This makes up 35 to 40 percent of his work. Another 25 to 30 percent of his time is spent with restaurant and hotel clients (he's worked for everyone from Emeril Lagasse to Fossil to Manolo Blahnik). And about 40 percent of his time now is spent with residential work, i.e., folks who are smart enough (and have enough coin) to have Oldham create something unique for their homes.
"With me, you could walk in and say, 'I would like a stairwell banister made of my kids' arms and legs,'" he says. "And I'll say, 'All right, bring 'em in. Let's see what their arms and legs look like.'"
In fact, Oldham gets a big charge out of the challenge. Sure, it helps if someone says, can you re-create that chandelier, or this type of ceramic backsplash, or one of them sorta sconces. But it's not necessary. Oldham will come to your house, meet with you, try to get a sense of what your particular style is, what you like and dislike, and then craft what best fits you. "It allows me to design for them better. I can get a feel for what they want, what will make them happy."
Follow him into a back room, and you can see some of the wildly original products Metal Man has crafted, such as the sink where the gargoyle spits water off his tongue. "I feel like Felix the Cat sometimes," he says. "I open up my bag, and I've got all my people in there, with all our tricks we've learned; we try to make the magic happen."
Although the historical restoration does give Oldham a sense of satisfaction--"Being trusted to work with stuff that is 110 years old is wonderful"--he hopes to move more toward his passion, which is creating his own sculpture and artwork. He's already produced several by-commission works (including a 6-foot-tall bowling pin--long story) and anxiously awaits his first gallery show November 7 at Debris. If you go, you can ask him about the time he made 350 whoopee cushions for Pee Wee Herman, because we've only begun to talk about the variety of works Brad Oldham produces, and we're already outta space.
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