Meandering from sculpture to carpentry to metalwork, Forrest Stone's career has been powered by a desire to build a community and make cool stuff
When Forrest Stone was just a toddler, he met a man who lived down the street from his grandparents in Wendell, Massachusetts, who would forever after his sense of beauty. The man was an incredible artist, though you have never seen his work in a museum. Aside from a single gallery show, Achi Sullo never tried to sell his work or share it with the world. Instead, he slathered canvases in color, creating bold abstract curves of salmon and rust, emerald and orange, and carved plywood into similarly sinuous shapes, all for his own enjoyment. “He was sort of a recluse,” says Stone. It didn’t take long for Stone to realize that Sullo’s work was “just amazing.” He spent years listening to the older man’s stories—all through high school, all through college. Sullo told Stone about how he stormed Normandy Beach on D-Day as a young soldier and about how he got his start as an artist by painting camouflage patterns onto army vehicles. He told the younger artist about his meeting with Picasso in Italy, how he made his way through art school, and, finally, how he decided to stop selling his work to the public.
These stories made a big impression on Stone. They’re not the only reason Stone became an artist (his mother is a painter, too) but he calls these experiences “hugely influential.” After high school, Stone went on to study sculpture at Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt), where he spent his days in the wood shop and metal studio. He became a craftsman who toggles between big projects and small ones, making bar stools and barrels. Like his mentor, Stone became an artist who is reluctant to sell his work to just anyone, who views his creative output as part of a larger system of values and morals.
While some of his more recent work is located in private homes or on the road (he has been known to collaborate with motorcyclists to make their custom bike dreams come true). Stone’s primary income come from the craft beer sector. In 2017 and 2018 he worked on a series of projects for Bissell Brothers. He designed and built their koelschip (an open tank used to wild-ferment beers) as well as its surrounding fermentation room. He created a seven-foot-tall foeder (a type of wooden barrel used in brewing) for the company, as well as a distinctive wavy poplar wood that measures 17-feet by 15-feet and hangs behind the bar at the Thompson’s Point location. “My community and the clients that I like working for have driven my career choices almost 100 percent,” he says. “I’m a small, one-man shop. I don’t advertise, and I don’t cold call. All my business comes from word of mouth. It’s awesome that, on a beer forum, a head brewer can say they need a welder and someone I’ve worked for will suggest me.” While other industries can be competitive, Stone believes that the local Maine beer industry isn’t driven by an “only me, only mine” attitude, as he puts it. Although he entered the beer world through working with Bissell Brothers, he’s gone on to work with Battery Steele Brewing in Portland, Brewery Extrava in Portland, Exhibit “A” Brewing Company in Framingham, Massachusetts, and Naukabout Brewery in Mashpee, Massachusetts.
Before Stone came to the world of metalworking and welding, he spent time as a carpenter—a good career but one without much “room for aesthetics.” After a few years of working in Maine, Stone came to realize, first, that he liked working for himself and, later, that the market for custom wood furniture was saturated in Maine. There were many good artists making good tables and chairs. He remembered how much he enjoyed working in the metal shop in school, and he decided to switch gears and focus on learning everything he could about welding, curving, carving, cutting, pounding, and working steel. Plus, he explains, “wood is a subtractive material,” but metal can be either additive or subtractive. Also, diving into metalwork gave him a chance to develop a new, specialized skill set. “I love to learn,” he says. “I am always researching something new. I’ll stay up all night researching how to do something on YouTube or reading articles.” While he wouldn’t call himself entirely self-taught, he doesn’t shy away from learning by trial and error.
Stone creates his stainless-steel furniture, tanks, brewery equipment, and custom metalwork out of his garage in Cumberland. He hasn’t abandoned woodworking entirely—he has a woodshop in the basement—but his passion right now is for metal. Standing in Stone’s living room on my visit, I am surrounded by evidence of his artistic growth, the various phases he’s moved through, and the various styles that have influenced his development. There is a smooth walnut dining table with a live edge and, at one end, a sloping and sculptural low-backed wood chair. Above the dining room table hangs a prized piece by Sullo, a large painting made up of amorphous shapes that fit together like a bulbous, colorful jigsaw puzzle. On his porch, he has a single stool made from wood and stainless steel. Every element, from its welded joints to the smooth wood top, was designed and built by Stone. (It was designed for the Bissell Brothers taproom, where there are 18 stools just like it.) His home, which he shares with his wife, Lindsay, is open, bright, and filled with midcentury modern shapes and handcrafted pieces. I could describe its style as minimalist, but it’s not stark and formal like some minimalist spaces. It’s warm, inviting, and soft.
Stone walks this same tightrope in his current designs and experiments, which emphasize the tactile nature of stainless steel. His studio is packed with hard-edged machines, big hulking masses that can pierce, cut, grind, and roll metal—machines that, if I’m honest, scare me a little. But Stone knows how to use them to create forms that bend and flow. In the middle of his workshop sits a prototype of a chair. It’s made from stainless-steel sheet metal—the same material used to create an almost endless list of items, from industrial heating ducts to aircrafts to medical tables. “It’s been fun to take the curves and softness I like about wood furniture and do the same thing with sheet metal,” he explains as he lifts up the chair. “It’s incredibly light, which is cool for such a visually large object.” He dangles the metal chair from one hand before putting it back down and admitting, “I haven’t figured out the legs yet.” For now, he’s content to play around with the shapes and forms. The chair might one day be the first of many. It might go into production, covered in bright colors (he favors millennial pink and canary yellow currently) and be sold in stores. Or it might be just another one of his many projects made for the fun of the making, and come to sit beneath one of Sullo’s paintings in his eclectic living room, the arches and bends echoing the motions of paint on canvas.