Art: Metal Worx Inc.
By LeJuane “El’Ja” Bowens
Standing for freedom and justice, the American flag is a revered symbol. It flies high, especially in our Fayetteville and Fort Bragg community. The red, white and blue are emblematic of what we’ve fought for historically, and what we continue to fight for. Flags, then, can weather the test of time.
I went out to discover the battle worn flags created by Metal Worx Inc., to uncover the history behind the flags they’ve created and to see how their metal art is an example of the American dream at work right here, close to home.
Upon entering the shop, I was engulfed in the sheer craftsmanship of their creations. Standout flags caught my eye. Flags, dripping in color, were for states, universities, and even Marvel Comic characters. Metal Worx Inc. felt friendly and welcoming, and it was at that moment I was greeted by Lori Bertsch, the owner of the establishment who runs operations along with her son, Trevor.
Muscle Cars & Metal Art
Metal Worx Inc. came to life in August of 2008 originally as a shop that customized hot rods, muscle cars, and other automobiles. They continued with auto frameworks, welding, auto customization, and auto restoration, but in 2016, they found another artistic calling. While breaking in a new plasma table, on which they cut out metal parts, Lori made a specific design of an American flag. “I told my husband I wanted to do a battle worn flag. I found a design I liked. We made it and went from there,” she shares. “At first we called it a tattered flag, but most people suggested we call it battle worn instead.”
What was it about a battle worn flag that spoke to her? “To me,” she said, “it’s something that’s well worn. It’s been through a battle. Or, someone has flown that flag for years.” She says that this “battle worn” quality resonates with those who served in the armed forces, especially older military veterans. “They come in and say, ‘It’s like when we were in battle, still flying that flag.’” Little did she know that those first few cuts on a plasma table would be the beginning of a product that would forever change the scope of their business.
The Flags, Themselves
Flags at Metal Worx Inc. are in celebration of states and schools, in honor of fallen soldiers or emergency responders. Highly customizable in nature, not all projects are stoic and steeped in remembrance. Projects range from monograms to military crests to business logos. Projects come in two styles, one painted with the clear, bright colors of automotive paint and the other option is a patina finish that gives the finished metal an oxidized look. The work may vary, but the craftsmanship does not.
Since the art took off in 2016, their work has been ever increasing, not only in projects, but also in the scope of their business. To keep up with streams of orders coming in, they went from three employees to six. The demand for their coveted art comes from both the new work they’ve created and from the lasting connections they had before they transitioned to their new brand.
Trevor talks about the challenges of business, while he sits down to relax from working in the heat. “One of the major changes with us now is that we are going straight into doing metal art. It’s becoming hard to balance our car customization with it.” Business has grown so big that now over 90% of the items located in the store are either in the process of being shipped out to customers or will be picked up by local patrons.
In April, Metal Worx Inc. previewed work at the All American Tattoo Convention. They were also at the Azalea Festival in Wilmington and have a display at The Wine Café downtown. Lori and Trevor agree their most significant project is the five battle worn flags they sent to the Dallas Police Department in Texas in honor of the five officers who were gunned down last year during a protest in July. Reflecting, Trevor says, “We sent five flags down to them because it was the right thing to do.” Around this time, business was picking up and they wanted to reach out and let the Dallas Police Department and the families of those affected know that not only were their families grieving, but America was grieving as well. Lori remembers that moment. “After it happened I came in and said, ‘We have got to find out who those people are and their badge numbers.” The Dallas Police Department sent a thank you card to Metal Worx Inc. and ensured the flags were delivered, each one to the family members of the fallen.
Business Heats up
Changing their business model to focus on metal art also meant changes were afoot in how Metal Worx Inc. wanted to be perceived in the public’s eye. Locally, word of mouth spread quickly. Facebook and Instagram have been avenues for Metal Worx Inc. to gain a following and offer a behind-the-scenes approach to their creative process, but they wanted to reach an even wider audience. With this notion, they decided to move from their former Hope Mills location, a place that was hard to tell if it was strictly an automotive shop and difficult for customers to discern where the entrance was, to their current location downtown Fayetteville at 1122 Gillespie Street. A move downtown was professional, plus a storefront would encourage passersby to stop in, look around, and discover their unique work.
Trevor glances around at all of the many battle worn flags they have created. “One thing we want the good folks of Fayetteville to know and remember us for in the city is that we’re your typical mom and pop shop that opened up based on a vision. We want people to know that we’ve grown, not only as a successful business, but also as a successful American product.”
Lori notes the furthest their flag has gone is to Germany and adds that they would love to get back into working with cars one day as this was the reason they began their business years ago in their home garage, but, at the moment, they are happy doing the work of bringing their own visions and everyone else’s dreams to life.
The writer Neil Gaiman once said, “You’re always you, and that don’t change, and you’re always changing, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” This applies to Metal Worx Inc. Over the past years, they have seen a lot of change, but one thing that remains constant for Lori and Trevor is doing right by their community. They continue showing their patriotic spirit with each piece of art completed.
In Wilmington, at the Azalea Festival this year, Lori said one man came up to their table. It’s windy by the beach and this man said their battle worn flags looked just like his flag on his flagpole. “It’s a symbol of America,” Lori said. “It’s a symbol of America that they’ll continue to fly the flag.”
Learn more about Metal Worx Inc. at their website metalworxinc.net. Search for them on Facebook and Instagram and visit their new store located at 1122 Gillespie Street. Prices for projects range from $40 to $380 for basic creations and custom works.