John T. Unger Sculptural Firebowls | 2014 Martha Stewart American Made Awards Nominee | Martha Stewart





John T. Unger Sculptural Firebowls

American Made Since 2005

John T. Unger

Mancelona, Michigan
The power of fire and the strength of steel fused in elemental elegance to create sculptural fine art reborn from the ashes of industry.

Tell us about your business.

Sculptural Firebowls by artist John T. Unger are luxury fire features valued for exceptional craftsmanship, beauty and design. American made firepits, hand cut from recycled steel, John T. Unger’s Sculptural Firebowls have been featured in The New York Times, HGTV and DIY Network. Since I first created the Great Bowl O’ Fire in 2005, my art has set the world ablaze. I’ve shipped over 1100 firebowls to 50 states and 14 countries. For me, art extends beyond the physical object— Art includes the story, the environment, the experience, and all the adventures getting there. Art is not the stuff we make or buy, art is the way we spend our time, day to day. My Sculptural Firebowls are intended to have an immediate visual appeal as well as providing a story, meaning, and social interaction. They offer an opportunity to gaze into the fire and connect with the human questions that have enticed every imagination since we first gathered around a captive flame over a million years ago.

What makes your business stand out?

I work primarily with recycled or re-used materials. If my job as an artist is to fill the world with "more things," I feel it is equally important that I reclaim materials from the waste stream to make space for my work. I feel 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? I design for permanence. The earliest surviving iron artifacts we’ve found date back to 37,000 years ago. I would like my work to hold to such a standard. 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 classical elements of design that speak to what it means to be human and alive. I design for functionality. My work is intended to be useful as well as beautiful. I feel engineering is as critical as ingenuity in art. For a work of art to be valued for centuries, it must reflect how people will interact with it.

What's the best business advice you've received?

"Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work." - Gustave Flaubert. I find that the more I can create clear and practical systems to manage my business, the more time I have to be creative and make new works. By building strong relationships with trusted partners (such as shipping companies, suppliers, galleries) I can insure that customers always receive the best care.

Mark Your Calendar

  • Nominations
    June 3–Aug. 29, 2014

    Nominate yourself or other aspiring makers.

  • Judging
    June 23–Sept. 8, 2014

    Judges will select finalists throughout this period.

  • Online Voting
    Sept. 15–Oct. 13, 2014

    Vote for your favorite American makers.

  • Winners Announced
    Oct. 17, 2014

    2014 Award Winners and Audience Choice Winner announced.

  • American Made Event
    Nov. 7–8, 2014

    Join us for our annual event in New York City.