I’m Nathan Rock, of Industrial Artifact in DeKalb, Illinois. Industrial Artifact is a four-man shop where history meets home. I’m the owner, maker, and resident mover and shaker. Ethan Ridl is our online operations manager – he handles customer care and restorations. Austin Cliffe works on re-wiring and restoration. Matt Grodowski is our warehouse manager – he takes care of item listings and shipping. We spend a lot of time driving across the country going to auctions, estate sales, and factory liquidations hunting for unique pieces from the American industrial revolution. We try to find pieces that capture the history of the places we visit.
As the son of a used machinery dealer, I was exposed to the industrial foundations of this country at a very young age. I spent just as much time in various factories as I did in school. In my youth, I found these settings to be rather dreary, but my old man always seemed to see through the rust and dirt to the lasting beauty of the pieces and places we encountered. With age, I grew to see the craftsmanship in these items as well.
Many of the items we deal with on a daily basis are at least 75 years old. Oftentimes they come to us requiring some maintenance, but the quality of their build is why they’ve endured. It is a pleasure to see rapidly disappearing items reborn, and to rescue them from becoming scrap. Appreciation for the design and build of yesteryear drives our desire to preserve the pieces we work with. Simply put, they just don’t make ‘em like they used to!
Our favorite piece we’ve made together is our large adjustable industrial table. Building this table was truly a learning experience for everyone involved, and every step of the process required us to learn a new skill. Prior to this project, the largest table I’d ever made was roughly 30″ x 48.” It was Ethan’s first chance to glue a table top, and Austin’s first experience staining and finishing a large table top (it should be noted that Austin is now a wizard with pre-catalyzed lacquer and conversion varnish). This table was not only invaluable to us as a team-building exercise, but as an opportunity for everyone in our shop to develop and hone their skills.
I think all the members of our shop agree that we have a great deal more satisfaction in the day-to-day activities we accomplish here than in jobs we’ve held in the past. In one day we can transform an item from a dirty, non-functioning relic to an attractive, working showpiece. We often meet challenges which require us to learn new skills, and we’re constantly surrounded by an ever-changing array of interesting artifacts. As an added bonus, we also get to explore some incredibly unique locales in search of our finds.
Etsy has been instrumental in reaching folks who see the enduring strength and beauty in our pieces, and it has been our single strongest vehicle for sales, growth, and input from the vintage and antiques community. I first heard about Etsy from a friend who runs Secret Agent Arts, but I was luke-warm to the idea of opening a shop. The big eye-opener came on the day we created our shop and almost immediately made our first sale. We soon realized that Etsy was our single-most influential marketplace, and we never looked back.
All photographs by Industrial Artifact.