Erik and Israel Nordin are artists in Detroit, their company is the Detroit Design Center. This is their story.
Israel and Erik Nordin (The Nordin Brothers) started the Detroit Design Center® in 1999, well before the current renaissance in Detroit was happening. They worked for their father’s steel company to help pay for school. In 1999, their father retired and the brothers decided it was time to begin creating their art full time. They purchased their studio on Michigan Avenue from him and began buildings objects. They learned about business from their father who taught them important themes that still run true in their company today. “Do what you say”, “pay your bills on time”, “grow slowly” and “dream big”.
The Nordin Brothers grew up in Sterling Heights in a family with six children. Their mother Elayne was a painter and father Ron a musician. Their parents instilled a sense of freedom in the way their children thought about the world. As kids, their parents took them six-month road trip camping to thirty different states.
“Doing Art in Detroit Before it Was a Cool Address,”
Israel, “the master builder” (Erik calls him), graduated from the College of Creative Studies with a dual degree in glass and ceramics. Israel is passionate about balance in his art and engineering outside the box. Erik attended Cranbrook and graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in music. He sees visual art through the eyes of a musician which he feels is a huge influence. The Nordin Brothers have lived and worked in the City of Detroit for over 20 years moving there right out of college. Their main studio is on Michigan Avenue, it is a 12,000-sq. ft. building with 2 cranes and ample space for creating large scale pieces. They are opening an event space/gallery in midtown Detroit. The event space will be available for private parties and corporate gatherings as well as weddings, music and other art events. It is planned to open later this year.
Starting with restaurants and homes, the brothers designed both unique visual pieces as well as functional objects like wine racks, gates, railings and other utilitarian pieces. Realizing that many of their pieces could be discarded when the restaurants changed ownership was a catalyst for exploring new opportunities for their works longevity. The Nordin’s say that their connection with architects is once of collaboration. Architects create spaces and we create objects for their spaces.
In 2007 with the collapse of the economy, the brothers started designing furniture and began to work with hospitals and other corporate clients. One of the things they are most proud of is surviving the Great Recession and consisting growing as full-time artists in Detroit.
Coming out of the recession the Nordin’s focused their energy on creating unique art pieces that could have a positive impact for the City of Detroit, many on shoe string budgets. Israel and Erik created the D-burst sculpture which has fallen over the city for New Years and helped attract tens of thousands of people for the celebration. They also created the 25-ft. tall sculptural “Detroit Menorah” which is one of the largest in the country and is used for the Hanukah celebration in Campus Martius each year. People feel passion however it is expressed, say the brothers – people can identify and relate to the struggle of creating something from nothing.
The brothers feel honored to have worked for Dan Gilbert’s companies in Detroit. They created a hand-blown glass coral reef inside of a 700-gallon functioning salt water aquarium full of fish life.
The Nordin’s have five large scale art pieces in the Quicken headquarters as well as having created pieces for Bedrock Real Estate. Recently the brothers were commissioned by Bedrock to search the basements of the historic skyscrapers in Detroit to find “artifacts” that were left behind. Erik says he heard the Indiana Jones theme song in his head as they searched the basements with flashlights. The art piece “Artifacts” is a collage of strange objects like tools and pressure gauges, even a lost shoe found its way into the sculpture. It’s amazing what happens to an object when you dust it off and breathe new life into it -everything has beauty in it, you just have to look for it – say the brothers. The Nordin’s welcome new work and pride themselves on their ability to work with large companies and create pieces that make statements while meeting budgets. Their lead time is 120 days and they are typically working on several pieces at one time.
The Nordin’s have created many corporate pieces that are designed specifically to tell a story about their client’s. They have created donor wall art pieces for Detroit Hospitals like Henry Ford Health Systems which features several of the Nordin’s donor walls as well as Detroit Medical Center where the brothers have created feature art pieces for the lobby of Sinai Grace and the Heart Hospital. The Nordin’s are interested in helping with donor projects in cities as well.
Erik and Israel have been selected on several occasions to create major awards for clients. This past fall they created a sculpture that was selected by Coach Jim Harbaugh to be the Bo Schembechler MVP Award. The sculpture is inspired by the sword and shield symbolizing “going to work and protecting the home”. It is now one of the most coveted awards in University of Michigan football. The brothers were commissioned by the Detroit Red Wings to create a new trophy to celebrate the winner of the Michigan and Michigan State hockey game played in Detroit. The trophy is called the Iron D and will be used each year, like the Brown Jug or Paul Bunyan Trophy is celebrated in football. It will travel to the winning university and now gives the players something to play for in the future. The Iron D is a symbol of their trip to Detroit and the hard work it takes to win the game. The Nordin’s also created the Michigan Torch for the Michigan Games as well as many other trophies and awards. Creating a special piece that will take on a greater meaning and symbolize celebration is one of the artist’s favorite types of projects.
The brothers began their work in city sculpture and public art with the belief that art can bring people together and it can change the way we think. Each of their pieces tells a story and are designed and created specifically for the client they are working with. Currently the Nordin’s have large scale permanent pieces in cities including Detroit, Brighton, Beverly Hills, Troy, Harrison Twp. to name a few. They are currently creating a new piece for Grosse Pointe Park and another for the Detroit neighborhood Corktown, which will be installed near the Train Station on Michigan Avenue downtown. The Nordin’s have been working directly with cities to not only create sculptures, but to help consult on many art related initiatives including placement, location, landscaping, lighting and developing a plan and purpose for the art. Harrison Twp. recently commissioned the Nordin’s to create a welcome sculpture near I-94 and Metro Parkway. Called “Migration”, the sculpture speaks of the community’s love and connection to wildlife which is so prevalent in the area. The brothers are helping the township create sculptures along the bike path that offer their community a moment to sit and contemplate the meaning of the art and further create conversations with people.
“Art is a magical thing, it should create conversations” say the brothers. Our focus currently is to bring people together to celebrate one another using our medium of expression. There is so much divisiveness in the world right now. We feel passionately that we must do our part to create conversations about celebrating one another, celebrating our neighbors and the people closest to us. We must look for the good in one another.
The Grosse Pointe Park sculpture is visually inspired by two sail boats sailing side by side. It symbolizes the Detroit and GPP as neighboring communities, and speaks of the beauty of the Detroit River as well as the idea of sailing sometimes through tumultuous waters. There are calm times of progress and beauty and there are times of struggle and storms, together we can weather these storms and move to a brighter future. Art is a vehicle that symbolizes progress.
One of a kind sculptures, donor art pieces, trophies and awards and consulting are where the brothers are focused today. They love to meet new people and help communities express themselves through art.
You can see more work from the Nordin Brothers on their website www.detroitdesigncenter.com