Knoxville Weekend Feature: Metalworkers

Video produced by Knoxville Weekend

Written by Susan Alexander

These local metalworkers love Knoxville. Here's why.

The Maker City

Preston Farabow of Ironwood Studios in Happy Holler, Karly Stribling of Soil & Steel and Bentley Brackett of Elemental Design Co. in Old North Knoxville had a lot to say recently about why they love living and working in Knoxville. 

Start with the environment

“Something about Knoxville fits me,” said Preston. “Geographically, I can escape to the mountains quickly. 

Add the culture

“The culture fits me. There’s enough stimulus with the university here,” he continued.

“There were businesses in the past, like Whittle Communications, that attracted creative-minded people. They fell in love with Knoxville and remained here and started production companies and creative agencies. People here are willing to chase creative visions, whether in video or sculpture or other fields.” 

The Maker City

“It’s a very hands-on community; there are a lot of people who make things here,” he said. “They work for what they have, they’re very down to earth.” 

“I think Knoxville is very supportive of the creative community,” said Bentley. “I’ve done projects for a lot of my neighbors here. The people I deal with don’t want something they saw on TV. They want something unique.” 

And the cost of living

“And it’s affordable to live here,” said Preston. “When we graduated from college, a lot of my buddies moved to New York or Seattle or Chicago because that’s where they thought they had to be as an artist. But in Knoxville I didn’t have to work three jobs to afford living here. I could do my art.”

Let’s talk collaboration

“I’ve known Preston a long time,” said Bentley, who works in wood and concrete as well as metal. “He was one of first people I called when I was thinking about starting my business. He invited me to a Tuesday morning breakfast with him and other metalworkers, and I asked questions, and they answered everything.  When I have a question, I go to my competition and ask them how they do something. It’s a very collaborative group. 

The Maker City

“I grew up in Charlotte, and the environment there is very different from here,” he said. “Knoxville has open arms. It likes to support small local stuff and each other. Maybe it’s because of its size. There’s something quaint about Knoxville; there’s a reason Knoxville is The Maker City and not Chattanooga or Raleigh.” 

“There’s a good community of metalworkers,” said Karly. “I don’t feel a sense of competition; we feed off each other. There’s plenty of work to go around.” 

And then there’s the comfort factor

“Knoxville is a comfortable place,” said Bentley. “Sometimes there’s negativity to being comfortable, but when I say that, it’s not a negative. You don’t pick socks that are uncomfortable. It fits who I am and what I like to do. I can’t imagine leaving.”

 “Knoxville is just the right size,” said Karly. “If you want to make a splash you can. It sucks you in and makes you comfortable.” 

The Maker City