Metalwork artist among those honored with VCU Alumni 10 Under 10 award

Photo of Gabriel Craig and Amy Weiks, co-founders of a metalwork artist shop in Detroit
Gabriel Craig and Amy Weiks co-founded the Smith Shop in 2012. Craig was one of 10 alumni recognized last week by VCU Alumni as part of its 10 Under 10 awards program. (Photo courtesy of Gabriel Craig)

Gabriel Craig, a fifth-generation Detroit native, lived and traveled outside his hometown for a decade after completing a bachelor’s degree at Western Michigan University. The time, he said, helped him cultivate a complex perspective on the social, cultural and ethnic diversity that exists in the Motor City. His journey also brought him to Virginia Commonwealth University, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts from the School of the Arts in 2009. 

At VCU, Craig was influenced by classes he took with now-retired art history professor Charles Brownell, Ph.D., which grounded Craig in the history of western architecture and decorative arts and gave him the knowledge today to create art with authentic design. He also was particularly inspired by social practice art and community-based projects such as the work of Susie Ganch, an associate professor and now interim chair of the Department of Craft/Material Studies.

Ganch’s involvement with “Radical Jewelry Makeover,” an art project that “mines” unwanted jewelry from the community and transforms it to new contemporary pieces, opened Craig’s eyes to new possibilities, such as “the idea that you could have an environmental impact or be an environmental role model in how you implement your artistic practice,” he said.

Metalwork, Craig realized, is a small enough field that his actions could truly matter to other working artists and on the larger community.

“Through the craft and material studies program’s focus on both community and artistic excellence, I gained the confidence to attempt to effect change while also pursuing my artistic goals,” he said.

Craig later returned to Detroit and co-founded Smith Shop, a metalworking studio that specializes in custom fabrication of gold, silver, copper, brass, bronze and steel. On Friday, he was one of 10 people honored by VCU Alumni as part of its 10 Under 10 awards program celebrating the noteworthy and distinctive achievements made by alumni who earned their first VCU degree (undergraduate, graduate or professional) within the past 10 years. 

10 Under 10 awards 

Edwin Obilo Achola, Ph.D.

Doctor of Philosophy 2013, School of Education

Joseph Carlson
Bachelor of Fine Arts 2008 and Master of Fine Arts 2011, School of the Arts

Keyanna Conner, Ph.D.
Doctor of Philosophy 2015, College of Humanities and Sciences

Gabriel Craig
Master of Fine Arts 2009, School of the Arts

Don Davis Jr., Ph.D.
Master of Science 2008 and Doctor of Philosophy 2011, College of Humanities and Sciences

Leah Fremouw
Bachelor of Arts 2008, College of Humanities and Sciences, and Master of Public Administration 2010, L. Douglas WIlder School of Government and Public Affairs 

Mary Beth Bird Knipper
Bachelor of Science 2010, College of Engineering

Lathika Mohanraj, Ph.D.
Doctor of Philosophy 2008, School of Medicine, and Bachelor of Science 2014, School of Nursing 

Cheri B. Spence
Master of Science 2008, School of Business 

Nantasha Williams
Bachelor of Arts 2011, College of Humanities and Sciences

Craig said the award came as an unexpected and humbling honor.

“When you go out into the world, you never really expect that there’s anyone keeping tabs on what you’re doing in your life from back where you went to college,” he said. “It’s nice to know that the institution that helped train you is proud of you.”

Smith Shop’s work, which ranges from jewelry to architectural hardware, is carried in more than 40 retail outlets across the U.S. and abroad and has been recognized in publications such as Saveur, Food & Wine, Metropolis, Dwell and American Craft. 

In 2012, the same year he co-founded Smith Shop, Craig was named in the 40 under 40: Craft Futures by the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and was included in an exhibit of the same name.

Craig said he and his wife and business partner, Amy Weiks, have always worked to create community and engagement around their passion for metalwork. Smith Shop has shepherded 16 interns to success in the field of artistic metalwork. In 2014, Craig founded the Center for Craft & Applied Arts, a nonprofit advocacy and education organization that works to bring opportunities for creative production to central Detroit residents through exhibitions, public programs, community outreach and economic development.

That community involvement, Craig said, “drives me to continue to create new work, to share this vocation and to learn ever more about its practice and history.”

Read more about the 10 Under 10 honorees at

Contact: Kristen Caldwell
Office of Development and Alumni Relations
(804) 828-3977