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Proceed with curiosity

February 14, 2014

Joseph Auito, a joint activities representative for UAW Local 412 and a former Warren (Mich.) Truck Assembly Plant employee, was the first place winner with his miniature, functioning double Ferris wheel assemblage sculpture that was a year in the making. (Photos by Gunther Schabestiel, Chrysler Group Photo Imaging)

Joseph Auito, a joint activities representative for UAW Local 412, with his winning entry, a miniature, functioning double Ferris wheel assemblage sculpture.

“Who am I to say what is art, but who are you to say what is not!” says Joseph Auito, the 2013-2014 Artist at Work first-place winner.

Since its inception in 1999, Artist at Work, the only juried art show in the United States to be jointly sponsored by a major corporation and a labor union, has not only provided a unique creative outlet for FCA US employees, it has also served to reinforce the importance of innovation in the UAW-FCA US workforce.

Auito impressed the judges with Childhood Anxiety, a miniature, functioning double Ferris wheel assemblage sculpture in a style of art and design called Steampunk. Rooted in the British Victorian era or American “Wild West,” this artistic genre typically features antiquated technologies such as steam-powered or geared machinery and retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them.

A year in the making, Auito’s assemblage sculpture began to take shape in a metal sculpture class at Macomb Community College in suburban Detroit, where he says he learned to stretch beyond his comfort zone.

“I like my work to make a statement,” Auito said. “If you look at it and say ‘that’s pretty’ or ‘it’s not saying anything,’ I have failed as a sculptor in my eyes, and that piece hits the scrap pile. What’s important to me is that I have created a piece of art you will remember and think about when you get home.”

Auito uses “found objects” to assemble his unconventional work. “If I can drill it, weld it, cut it, screw it together, tie it on with bailing wire, paint it or Bondo it, I will use it,” he says. “There is no wasted material in my art world.”

The Ferris wheel’s arms in Childhood Anxiety are the rototillers from a John Deere tractor, discovered art a barn sale. Some of the seats came from an old Erector Set Auito received as a childhood gift. Other found objects include the standing supports of the end of a steam radiator salvaged from a field and a toy steam engine that simulates the Ferris wheel’s source of power. In reality, it’s driven by two electric motors.

Ironically, an unpleasant experience on a double Ferris wheel as a 5-year-old inspired Auito to create Childhood Anxiety. “I got on with the heart of a lion and off like a gazelle in lion country,” he recalls. “To this day, I will never get on a Ferris wheel again.”

Auito, a joint activities representative for UAW Local 412 and a former Warren (Mich.) Truck Assembly Plant employee, also earned honorable mention for two necklace pendants he has in the exhibit.

The jointly sponsored 2013-2014 Artists at Work Exhibition features 92 pieces of art by 50 UAW-represented and nonbargaining unit FCA US employees that reflect a cross section of the company’s work force. The collection is an equally diverse range of art forms, from paintings to ceramics, textiles and photography, and includes a towering metal sculpture that weighs more than 800 pounds.


Astonishingly, Shannon Jones’ prize-winning depiction of a welder at work is the first painting for the Mt. Elliot Tool and Die electrician.

“Art and manufacturing have more in common than you might think,” Keith Mickens, National Training Center co-director from the UAW, said. “The creative process involved in producing a memorable image on a canvas can be used to help build quality vehicles on an assembly line. We’re celebrating both through Artists at Work.”

World Class Manufacturing (WCM), the production process system for FCA US,  places a premium on employee involvement and creative approaches to building quality vehicles in the safest, most cost-efficient manner possible.

“There is a remarkable correlation between the artistic process and the manufacturing process,” Michael Brown, National Training Center co-director from FCA US, said. “Transforming innovative ideas into reality—an artist’s formula for success—is what drives WCM, and gives FCA US a competitive edge in the marketplace.”

A panel of four Detroit-area art professionals chose work for the exhibit from among about 600 entries submitted by U.S.-based FCA US employees. They awarded “best of show” prizes to three employees and selected 11 employees for honorable mention recognition.

Shannon Jones, an electrician at the Mt. Elliott Tool and Die Manufacturing Plant in Detroit, earned second place for his bold acrylic painting of a welder at work. It was the first painting he’s ever done.

A member of UAW Local 212, Jones has a four-year degree in electrical engineering. He said he’s “kind of an academic guy … and I like to draw,” but to enter the Artists at Work competition “I had to learn to paint on the fly.”

To create art, he said, “You’ve got to be driven.”

Our Hands Do More Than Just Build Cars

Our Hands Do More Than Just Build Cars

Shan Haq, a project chief in Body Closures Engineering, won third place with a Photoshop composite photograph that captures the “giving back” spirit of FCA US employees who perform community service.

The photograph that is the basis for the composite was taken at a farm where FCA US olunteers were picking corn donated to Forgotten Harvest, which donates fresh food to the hungry.

In the picture, the volunteers appear to be seen through the windshield of a Jeep® Wrangler Rubicon that was superimposed on the bucolic scene, along with the image of a semi-truck from Forgotten Harvest that seems to be reflected in the Jeep’s rearview mirror.

Haq, who works at the Chrysler World Headquarters and Technology Center in Auburn Hills, was one of the volunteers.

The other employees who received honorable mentions are:

• Sabrina Dao, data architect, Information and Communication Technology Building, Auburn Hills, photography
• Loel Gnadt, electrician, UAW Local 869, Warren (Mich.) Stamping Plant, wood turning
• Chaka Kpotufe, electrician, UAW Local 685, Kokomo (Ind.) Transmission Plant, pencil drawing
• Mark Lesch, millwright, UAW Local 1268, Belvidere (Ill.) Assembly Plant, pencil drawing
• Clifford Mosier, tinsmith, UAW Local 1264, Sterling Stamping Plant, Sterling Heights, Mich., metal sculpture
• Sherry Richards, product designer, UAW Local 412, Chrysler Technology Center, Conte crayon drawing
• April Shipp, storekeeper, UAW Local 412, Chrysler Technology Center, textile
• Jon Walters, manufacturing mechanical engineer, UAW Local 1302, Indiana Transmission Plant II, Kokomo, Ind., pencil drawing
• Clay Warnock, events coordinator, UAW Local 889, Chrysler Technology Center, photography
• Tammie Wilson, human resources assistant, UAW-Chrysler National Training Center, photography

Take a virtual tour of the exhibit: 2013-2014 Artists at Work Exhibit.

Photo and Video Credits:
Artwork – R.H. Hensleigh
Cover: Catherine Stoey
Joseph Auito with Childhood Anxiety – Gunther Schabestiel
Video – Ron Russell