SCOTT – The Juneaus like to play with fire. They’ve been doing it for decades, using high-temperature torches to shape and fuse metal into unique jewelry, sculptures, and furniture.
Pat and Suzanne Juneau met at the University of Lafayette, and more than 50 years later they married, taught for a short time, and became full-time artists.
Their work continues today with double hands. Their son, Andre, cuts designs out of aluminum with a large CNC machine to help Pat create sculptures and painted folk art furniture, and his daughter Angélique creates jewelry with her mother. Her favorite pieces are the fanciest items like tiaras and headpieces.
Together they are Juneau Metallurgy, a family business comprised of two distinct styles of metal art. Pat and Suzanne also founded the Louisiana Craft Guild, of which André is now president.
“I consider what I do mainly while playing”
Suzanne, 73, sits next to two large tanks with an acetylene oxygen torch in her hand. She wears copper rings that she made herself on nearly all of her fingers, an effort to soothe her arthritis. Glasses cover her eyes, a metal hairpin, which she also made, of course, holds her hair back.
“You need it,” she says of the barrette. “This (work) is going to burn your hair, there’s no doubt about that.”
At this station in her shop behind their home in Scott, she uses various sized tips on her torch to melt bronze rods and place them in a way that makes it look like she’s drawing with the molten metal. .
“I’m just playing right now,” she says as she crafts the bracelet. “I consider what I do mainly while playing.
“It’s fun. You can do whatever you want whenever you want. I have an idea and I can start working on it. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.”
It’s a practice she’s been honing since taking a jewelry course at the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now UL Lafayette) in the 1970s. It wasn’t her major, but she found her passion that semester.
“I loved working with fire,” she said.
Work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or be a full-time artist
Even when she briefly worked full-time in advertising or as an elementary school teacher in New Iberia, she made and sold jewelry on the side. After several years of teaching, she decided to try her hand at art full time for a year.
“I thought to myself, ‘I can eat rice and beans for a year,'” she said with a smile.
She and her husband Pat discovered that they could make a living from their art, planning in advance which fairs they would attend to sell their wares. Then the children joined them.
“I carried a folding crib,” Suzanne said. “They came with us and slept under a show table at Jazz Fest when they were 1 or 2 years old.”
They are still traveling, they just finished the last Jazz Fest in New Orleans in April.
“Not having a steady income is the hardest part,” she admits, “but you plan for it. Some years are better than others. That’s how life is.”
Once the metal she has burned is cool enough but still soft, she bends it with her hand, turning the flat design into a curved bracelet.
She tops it with a bezel she made earlier and will choose a stone for her to hold later. She places the piece in a bowl of acid in a sink to remove the tarnish, then in a tumbler for a final polish.
“I learned a lot of patience doing this,” she said. “It’s not a job for people without patience.”
Metalwork is a family business
Pat Juneau wears a yellow Steen’s Cane Syrup t-shirt as he demonstrates how to spin the roller in Suzanne’s shop, pressing designs into the softened metal. Then he goes to the largest store on their property where he and his son André create their sculptures.
“We’ve been doing this for almost 50 years,” says Pat.
He started making jewelry with Suzanne and over the years moved into blacksmithing and steel cutting. His process evolved to draw the designs that Andre needs to cut on the large CNC machine or plasma cutter. Then Pat paints it, a step he loves.
The process is collaborative but also individual.
“Everyone works individually doing their own thing,” Pat said.
“We’re having a great time,” Suzanne said.
Their daughter, Angelique, could work with them at Scott’s or at her own home shop in New Iberia when she’s not teaching art at Epiphany Day School.
“I’ve found that taking art classes and lessons and growing up around art has expanded my critical thinking skills, my creativity, broadened my mind,” she said. “It’s fun to pass that on to kids, to encourage them to find a new way of understanding something. In art, you solve problems and arrive at an end result in a million different ways.”
Like her parents, she loves working with metal and, of course, playing with fire. She finds her inspiration in metal artifacts found in the pages of anthropology textbooks or on the shelves of museums.
“It’s a medium that really piques my interest and you can play with fire and see what you can do,” Angelique said. “It’s versatile and the metal lasts.”