Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011
A local metal artist maintains a successful business without sacrificing quality.
By Emily Henagan
Photos by Robin May
Drive past a metal fence etched out in the shape of a tree or walk up a neighbor’s stairwell complete with an iron railing, and chances are Randy LeBlanc and his staff of two other artists at Metal Head created these simultaneously functional and exquisite pieces.
“The second I picked metal up in school, which was in my introductory to metal class, I knew I wanted to work with it,” says LeBlanc, who earned his fine arts degree from UL Lafayette. “That’s what I wanted to do. I had used all other mediums at that point. I never had a connection with a material until I first heated up a piece of steel red hot, hit it with a hammer and was able to impose my will on it. So, it was kind of a love at first sight.”
And this love at first sight has transformed into a successful business, which LeBlanc started in 2000 when he was fresh out of college. His wife, Monique, penned the business’ name and handles the financial dealings.
“I had no desire to work for anyone,” says LeBlanc, 37, who also serves as the regional vice president of the National Ornamental Mixed Metal Association (NOMMA). “I knew that even through my time at UL that I was going to find a way to open a shop and I did. I trudged through it, and Lafayette has been pretty incredible. I think Lafayette definitely supports craftsmanship. The people recognize the value of something handmade and well made, and they’ve shown me that. Lafayette has kept me in business this long, and I’m grateful to be here.”
Here, at his shop on 523 N. University Ave., LeBlanc’s materials are meticulously aligned throughout designated work spaces. Unlike other artists who are not business savvy or organized, LeBlanc possesses both of these attributes. He partly credits these qualities to his and his family’s military backgrounds. A former soldier in the Army National Guard, LeBlanc says the military made him more disciplined.
“My father retired as a lieutenant colonel and two of my other brothers served, as well,” says LeBlanc, a slender man with a muted version of a ZZ Top beard. “I think that’s helped me in business — the discipline. As an artist, I may not have been able to balance out and stay on track. The military was and still is a pretty big part of my life. I’m no longer in it, but it affected me and taught me to endure. Business is hard; it’s tough. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.”
LeBlanc has already produced a portfolio of work, which can be viewed on metalheadinc.com, that caters to a plethora of design aesthetics.
At his business, he and his two staffers juxtapose innovative, technological approaches and old-school methods into their works. A virtually self-taught artist and fabricator, LeBlanc says it is vital to mix up the two methods to produce quality residential, commercial and artistic designs. His employees agree with him and attest to LeBlanc’s workmanship.
“Randy keeps us busy with some pretty cool designs,” says Chris Lebauve, whose artwork is currently being featured at Café Des Amis. “We’re constantly growing and changing and doing things differently. It’s a very good dynamic. The fact that we have all sculptures here is pretty cool, too.”
A sculpture, welder, artist and fabricator, LeBlanc elaborates that he has not yet to “scratch the surface” on what metal can do.
“Metal is such an incredible element,” says LeBlanc. “It’s very forgiving. It can be pushed, pulled and moved. It’s a very symbolic material; it’s very strong. I definitely have my own language, but I think I am very juvenile in my professional artistic career. I have a long ways to go.”
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