Business

The Ground Floor: Marion metalworks aims for synergy

Entrepreneur wants to make art on her own terms

Cara Briggs Farmer works on a scuplture in her workshop at Synergy Metalworks in Marion. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Cara Briggs Farmer works on a scuplture in her workshop at Synergy Metalworks in Marion. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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MARION — Cara Briggs Farmer said she named her Marion business Synergy Metalworks to reflect how her diverse experiences have worked together in a way that allows her to create art from steel and scrap metal.

“What I’ve done in the past is so crucial to what I do now,” Farmer said.

Farmer, a Clinton native and University of Northern Iowa graduate, moved to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area after college to work as the technical director for a mid-sized theater. During her eight years there, she engineered, built and installed stage scenery — and learned how to weld.

“All of the major houses in the Twin Cities rely on steel construction,” she said. “If you want to play with the big kids, you better learn to weld.”

As an employee of a not-for-profit theater, Farmer didn’t have a lot of extra money in her personal budget. Instead of buying Christmas presents for her family and friends, she stayed late at work and used the welding equipment to create decorative garden structures for them.

Farmer returned to Iowa in 2008.

“I was burned out building other people’s visions and designs,” she said. “I wanted to make art on my own terms.”

She bought her own welder and set up shop in a garage. At the same time, she started working at Hy-Vee in Cedar Falls and trained as a retail chef. She later became the pastry chef at Lincoln Café in Mount Vernon.

When that restaurant closed in late 2013, Farmer decided to go full time doing metal art.

“What I do now is very similar to cheffing,” she said. “I start with raw materials and finesse them just enough to make them beautiful.”

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In 2016, while working on her first large-scale public art project, Farmer ran out of room in the one-stall garage of her Marion home that she was using as her workshop.

She was creating an archway with planters, benches, screens and lighting for Marion’s ImaginArt in the Alleys initiative.

“It was so big it wouldn’t even fit in the shop,” she said

Farmer’s wife, Laura, found an available building just two blocks from home that offered both a large workshop and space for a gallery. They closed on the building last July, and Farmer completed substantial renovations over the winter.

She opened the gallery on April 20.

Synergy Metalworks offers a mix of unique functional pieces and fine art for sale in a broad range of price points. Farmer also works with clients to design custom pieces such as decorative railings or garden gates. Commissioned work is about 40 percent to 50 percent of the business.

Farmer said she still is trying to work out permanent retail hours for the gallery, but the public is welcome to visit any time she is there working.

AT A GLANCE

Owner: Cara Briggs Farmer

Business: Synergy Metalworks

Address: 731 Ninth St., Marion

Telephone: (319) 775-7013

Email: SynergyMetal@gmail.com

Website: www.synergy-metalworks.com

Know of a business in operation fewer than 12 months that would make a good “Ground Floor”? Contact michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com

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