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Craft Call: Cactus Max Fine Metal Artwork

“One of the most enjoyable aspects of working on any project is the opportunity to collaborate with skilled craftsmen and artisans. This is where detail visions come to life and are made, changed, and often remade, into real things, often not even components that are seen yet are required to execute a detail. When budgets allow, these fabrications are limited only by imagination and can range from custom steel doors, decorative railings, kitchen vent hood surrounds, cabinetry and door hardware, one-of-a-kind bath accessories and fixtures, furniture, decorative cladding; essentially any metal component desired—all of which add value and personality to a project making them even more unique. Max Patino, of Cactus Max Fine Metal Artwork, often answers to names like “Cactus”, “Maximus”, “Maximize” or even “Cactimus”. Max has collaborated with many at LF on some remarkable work and has made the interactive process rewarding and quite fun.  His contributions go beyond the built work, but include building steel doors for the Dunning Residence in Santa Fe; a cosmic kitchen venthood and flue for the Dog Team Too Loft and Studio; to a variety of custom components for Hill Country projects just nearing completion, including SK Ranch, Mill Springs Ranch and the Kerr Lake House. Max’s artistry and craftsmanship are impeccable with a skill set ranging from old-world forged iron work to crisp modern welded steel and sheet metal fabrications of all sorts.Imagine it and Cactus Max can build it.” -Brian Korte     Above, from left: wrought iron ornamental screen, wrought iron stair railing, sandblasted stainless steel bathtub.   This interview has been edited and condensed. LF: Where do you call home? MP: I was born at the Nix Hospital, so San Antonio is home. LF: What led you to your craft? MP: My godfather had an ornamental ironwork business, and when I was a little boy, I went over there every day after school, and he lived right next door to where his shop was, and he would let me do things, because I could always draw and write really well. So what he would do, is he would bring out something, and he said, “OK here, write this”, like a sign for a restaurant or an address, and he would lay it out on the table and then I would write it, and as I was writing he would go cut pieces of material and follow my script with the steel. And that’s what really intrigued me, is that whatever I could draw he could make, and it was a lot of fun. He would let me do all kinds of stuff – he’d let me twist pickets and then, he would do stuff like, there would be a giant pile of steel, and he would say, “OK, I want you to take all this steel, and I want you to separate it and put it over here.” And I would take all the steel and separate it and put it in a giant pile over here. And then I’d say, “Now what?” and he would say, “Ok, now sweep”, and I would sweep everything up and get it all cleaned up. And then I’d say, “Now what?”, and he would say, “Ok, now put it back.” What he was doing, was he was getting me to have hand strength. You pick up steel all day long and you get strong hands! He died really young, in his early 50s, and after he died that was the end of that, I was in my early teens. I never got to do it again. I was in the restaurant business from 1975 to 1995. But what happened was, I got married, and I didn’t want to be gone all the time because of the restaurant business. So what I did, is I took a job selling restaurant equipment and it was real easy because I had been in the restaurant business forever, you know, so I knew exactly what they needed, I would walk in and evaluate what I thought they needed, and they were like, “You’re right, how did you know that?” so I was really pretty good at it, selling all this stuff. The interesting twist of events was that when you’re selling to the restaurant business you don’t have a whole lot of opportunity to sell to the people, because you know, you could only come in the morning, to whenever they get there til right before they start getting ready for  lunch, and then forget-about-it you can’t be in there during lunch, then you come back after lunch until they start getting ready for dinner, and then after that, forget-about-it, you don’t bother them at night. So what happened was, I had been such a workaholic, I couldn’t only work this much, and it was just these spits of work, you know, and it was making me crazy. And my wife said, “Look, you need to get yourself a hobby. You need to go do something. Else.” And I thought we were doing ok, and she said, “No it’s not that, I’m not talking about money, I’m talking about you, YOU need to entertain yourself more.” So I said ok, and I went and enrolled in a course, and I thought, what do I really like? You know I always really liked making stuff out of metal, so I registered for a course at St. Philip’s College.  Oxy Acetylene Welding.  And I learned oxy acetylene welding, then I took a welding class, then I took a machining class, then I took a lathing class. So, I started taking this class. In the meantime, I’m really enjoying it, everything’s going real well, and I’m having a lot of fun doing it. My wife could see that, so she bought me a welder, and I was like, ok cool, and started welding, and I bought a plasma cutter, and we started doing this stuff. And what happened was that Cappy was getting ready to open this place called Cappycino’s, and I was in there trying to sell him equipment. And he said, “I’ll buy this from you, but what I really need, is I want these little hibachis so that I can make tapas and put the tapas plates on top of them, that’s what I really need.” And I said, “You know what, I bet I can make those.”  And he said, “Really? You know how to do that stuff?” And I said, “I’m learning, but I’m pretty good.”  And he said ok. So I made his centerpieces for the tapas. It was made out of metal and it was a triangular candle holder and had a little flange at the top and he had little pictures cut out at the center of it and you put a candle in there, and you put a little skillet on top and you’d have tapas and eat them out of this warm skillet. And then the next challenge, he said “Max, you’ve been in the restaurant business for a long time, I can’t get anybody to sit in this window,” he said, “and I can’t figure out what to do about it!” So I said, “OK, how about I cut you a screen, that you can see through it, and it’s decorative, and I think the problem is that the table and chairs are bar height, and the window is glass, so the women don’t want to have their legs displayed.  If I was a lady I wouldn’t want to sit there. There’s no nice way to sit.” And he said, “You think that’s it?” and I said, “Yeah I think that’s it!” So he said, “OK do it.”  So I made this screen, and it was all out of cactus, it was this cactus cut-out. So I put that up. And then after that, it just kind of like, took off. This was the early part of the 90’s, it was before I quit the restaurant business. People would say, “I want a cactus!” and I made cactuses all day long, and everywhere I would go, I’d have a cactus in my hand. And I’d make centerpieces for restaurants and I was just putting them everywhere. And that’s where the name of the business came from, everywhere I went, oh it’s Cactus Max! LF: What are you working on now? MP: Things we got in the works right now, they’re all Don McDonald projects – we’re working on a balcony at Olmos, an awning on Ridgmont – all out of bronze, another venthood at Arrowhead Ranch in Hunt, Texas, it’s a girl scout ranch, and a stainless bathtub in a house in Hill Country Village. We’re gonna do all of the office furniture for Gates Minerals – it’s all steel tube bases with wood and leather tops. That’s with Drewry Martin, Gene Hausmann and Mitchell Construction.     Above: Cosmic kitchen venthood and flue at Dog Team Too Loft and Studio.   Above, blackened steel fabrications from Kerr Lake House. From left: kitchen venthood, fireplace doors, mirror frame.   Above, sandblasted stainless steel fabrications from SK Ranch. From left: vent louver, roof scupper, fountain and weir.   Above: blackened steel and glass upper cabinets at SK Ranch. Cactus Max Fine Metal Work: cactusmax [at] / 210.886.9629  
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