Atlanta Business Chronicle Article


Blood, Sweat & Steel fashions steel ornaments for facades and indoors

A building or construction project requires a particular type of decorative metal and presents a creative challenge. This could be a job for Alex Henderson, the owner of Blood, Sweat & Steel.

Although artist/entrepreneur Henderson, 31, is no Superman, his works sometimes prompt people to gaze at the sky in amazement. Henderson welds, bends and shapes all kinds of metal into large ornamental designs used on buildings' facades, indoors and for other uses.

"Hard, cold steel is the driving force for most of my pieces," Henderson said. "I am stimulated by the way the forms protrude into space, creating visual obstacles."

Henderson's 3-year-old company has created projects for some of Atlanta's corporate giants, including Delta Air Lines and the Coca-Cola Co. Blood, Sweat & Steel also completed work for the Georgia Building Authority, designing 19th century-style light fixtures for the state Capitol and a 16-foot-wide sculpture of the state seal, which was placed in the newly reconstructed Woodruff Park.

"Although they were subcontractors, they did a good job on the seal. We learned about them through the architectural firm, Reynolds, Smallwood, Stewart and Stewart," said Luther Lewis, executive director for the Georgia Building Authority.

"Blood, Sweat & Steel was chosen for the state seal job after a nationwide search, said Henderson, adding that the job was completed on time and within budget.

"Such recent projects have put the company into overdrive. Revenues last year were just $54,000, but Henderson expects to wrap up 1996 with revenues of $870,000. The goal for 1997 is $2.7 million. Employees now number 15, including engineers and draftsmen. Consequently, Henderson is considering moving his business for the third time just down the street from his current 20,000-square-foot warehouse on Ellsworth Industrial Boulevard in the Chattahoochee/Howell Mill Road area.

Roughly 80 percent of the company's business comes through referrals or from art patrons who have purchased or are familiar with Henderson's works.

"We're a highly diversified company. We work very closely with our clients through every step of the process," Henderson said. "A lot of times, people come to us with just an initial idea or concept. With the help of our in-house design team, draftsmen and CAD [computer-assisted design] system, we're able to do everything from designing prototypes to installing the final product."

Blood, Sweat & Steel's latest and most profitable job to date is designing and installing a $350,000 grand staircase at Lenox Towers, a project in conjunction with Atlanta-based Dominion Development Corp. and now under construction.

The company also completes structural steel work for small buildings, develops patterns for mold-making and leases large sculptures to accent interior and exterior corporate offices.

Some of Henderson's pieces have even been used by motion picture producers for props in television series, such as "Insights" and "I'll Fly Away."

Henderson emerged in the local arts arena four years ago, after he left the University of Kentucky before graduation to devote all his time to sculpting. A native Atlantan, Henderson returned home with three truckloads of sculptures.

He worked in metal scrap yards to support himself and to gain access to the supplies and materials needed to create his works. A few months after his return to Atlanta, he met Mike Barker, who had just opened a gallery called Dimensional Arts.

Barker was impressed with Henderson's work and took several pieces to sell in his gallery.

Most of Henderson's earlier works had been targeted to private residential art patrons. His first commissioned piece for the corporate market came when he was asked to design three reception area tables for a local architectural firm.

"This opened up a whole new avenue for me," said Henderson. "These tables sold for $1,500 each, and this is where I first got the idea to start my own company."

Henderson started Blood, Sweat & Steel with $27,000 raised primarily from sales of his artwork.

"I struggled with how I could divide my time and energy between staying focused on being a full-time artist, while at the same time pursue the all-American dream of becoming an entrepreneur, where I would focus on getting more corporate commissions and building projects."

Henderson said it is sometimes difficult to separate his roles as an artist and entrepreneur. Although both are important to him, he said he's an artist first, but can't compromise either. His company's success is dependent both upon his success as an artist and as an entrepreneur.

"I am continually striving to increase the awareness of the connection between myself and my art," Henderson said.