York U Sculpture student puts studies into practice with major industry commission

Featured mage of the ironwork railing created by a York student

Addendum: Ralph Grittani was incorrectly referred to as an architect in this story. In fact, he is not. The story has been corrected to reflect this fact.

Rising young sculptor Jose Miranda entered his final year of studies in York’s Department of Visual Art and Art History (VAAH) this fall with a major industry commission under his belt.

Over the past year, Miranda designed and welded together several hundred pounds of square steel tubing and scrap metal to create custom railings for the new facade of Ram Iron & Metal Inc.’s head office at 60 Ashwarren Road, Toronto.

Jose Miranda’s custom railings installed at the entrance to Ram Iron & Metal Inc’s head office

Since 2010, the company has provided York’s sculpture students with unlimited access to scrap metal, allowing them to execute their projects free from concerns about material costs limiting the scope of their creativity.

In addition to the remarkable opportunities this material gift offers to students working in metal, Ram Iron & Metal has also provided a number of $5,000 prizes for deserving VAAH students at the department’s annual Open House exhibition.

“We’re very grateful to the Racco family and Ram Iron & Metal for their support of our metal sculpture area and the impact they’ve made,” said Professor Brandon Vickerd, Chair of VAAH . “When I learned about their new facade, I thought a custom railing could be a wonderful opportunity for a student to apply their creativity to a real-world project in a lasting public domain. It’s also a way for York University to show Ram Iron & Metal and everyone who steps through the company’s doors  what a difference they make to young artists.

“I approached Jose for this project because of his professionalism and the seriousness with which he approaches his metal fabrication projects. Having won the Ram Iron & Metal competition in 2014, he was the ideal candidate to undertake this commission,” Vickerd said.

Miranda took inspiration from the railing vision and the site’s angular designs created by Ralph Grittani, president of RG Consulting Inc. – RGC Design Group and a graduate of York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (BA ’81).

“When RGC was retained to redesign the renovation of Ram Iron & Metal’s head office, we were very excited to show off their commodity – scrap metal – and the creative possibilities this material offers,” said Grittani. “I’ve collaborated with artists on many different projects over the years, and given the proximity of the site to York University, I opted to call my alma mater.”

Peter Racco, Ralph Grittani and Jose Miranda
From left: Peter Racco, VP logistics and general manager, Ram Iron & Metal Inc, Ralph Grittani, and York student Jose Miranda

In light of Ram Iron & Metal’s ongoing relationship with York, and the state-of-the-art metal fabrication facilities in the Odette Centre for Sculpture in the Department of Visual Art and Art History, it was a perfect fit.

“After we met to discuss a sustainable approach to fabricating a front stair and railing detail for the new build by finding a creative use for existing scrap metal, I felt confident that Jose could complete our vision,” Grittani said.

With some initial guidance from Grittani, Miranda researched building code regulations in York University’s Scott Library and took detailed measurements of the Ram Iron & Metal façade to prepare a 3D concept in Google Sketchup. With feedback from the team, he quickly finalized the design.

Detail of one of the railing panels designed and created from scrap metal by Jose Miranda

The railing is made of nine pieces: three pairs and three additional one-of-a-kind panels. “The centre of each piece is a unique panel comprised of many pieces of bushling – a type of scrap found in the Ram Iron & Metal yard,” said Miranda.” The bushling pieces resemble cookie cutter shapes. Once they’re welded together, they break the sunlight passing through the railings into interesting shadows.”

Miranda’s 3D model gave him exact measurements for each piece in the frames, including the precise angle of each cut required for the pieces to fit together. He used TIG and MIG welding techniques and plasma cutting, as well as cold forming and forging techniques in the railing fabrication – all skills he learned as a student in York’s Visual Art BFA program.

“Practice makes perfect, and the more time you spend in the metal sculpture studio, the better you get at using the tools and machines,” Miranda said. “The professors and studio technicians teach us how to use everything properly, with a focus on safety. They help build up our confidence and comfort level with the equipment and techniques. But after that, it’s up to the individual student to practice and improve.”

Working on such a large scale for the Ram railings made the project physically laborious, but that’s nothing new for the hardworking Miranda.

Jose Miranda’s custom railings for Ram Iron & Metal being fabricated in the Department of Visual Art and Art History’s Odette Centre for Sculpture

Time was my biggest challenge,” he said. “It was a huge project on top of my existing coursework. The two were equally important to me and needed to be balanced. I’m so grateful for the support of Professor Vickerd, who acted as a consultant throughout the process and helped arrange the delivery of all the materials. I also deeply appreciate the ongoing mentorship of the sculpture studio technicians, Roch Smith and Joel Wengle.”

Miranda’s railings were installed at Ram Iron & Metal Inc. this month.

“This new entrance is a proud symbol of Ram’s vision as a company,” said Grittani. “It’s also a wonderful example of a successful partnership of public and private initiatives, where everyone achieves their end goals.”

For Miranda, the completion of the project represents both a professional milestone and a gratifying artistic experience.

“Within the spectrum of what I create, I’m always trying to push forward to find the next new challenge. When you look back, you don’t really remember the heat, your exhaustion or your sore muscles. Instead, you remember that moment when you start to see everything come together. There’s a mixture of happiness and pride in seeing something you imagined become reality. It’s an amazing feeling!”