When Ramone Patterson was a teen, his mother took him and his twin brother to a barber on Frankstown Avenue in Homewood for Afro-style haircuts. In his 20s, Patterson made his way to the neighborhood to take in the music, food and artisan offerings at the annual Harambee Ujima Black Arts Festival.
Now the 53-year-old’s artwork occupies prominent spots at a factory-turned-maker space in Homewood.
Patterson, a metal worker who lives in Penn Hills and creates pieces for residential and commercial spaces, is one of two artists who designed outdoor furnishings for 7800 Susquehanna, a former Westinghouse Electric Corp. facility that’s marking 10 years as a center for makers, artists, small manufacturers and nonprofits in the creative economy.
Patterson — who previously designed metal wall hangings for a first-floor entrepreneurship center at 7800 Susquehanna — and Reggie Raye, a custom products designer, were selected as finalists in a competition to create the items. Patterson designed a bike rack and trash can; Raye designed a bench and planter.
Called ECO: Homewood, the competition included a directive for the artists to incorporate themes of the branding initiative, The Homewood Experience, into their work as a way to connect 7800 Susquehanna with the Homewood neighborhood.
The “ECO” in ECO: Homewood stands for Entrepreneurship & Creators Opportunity.
The bench and other pieces are bold shades of green, red and black — The Homewood Experience’s brand colors — and feature elements of its “Homewood is Home” logo.
Bridgeway Capital, which owns and operates 7800 Susquehanna, sponsored ECO: Homewood along with Neighborhood Allies, the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority and Homewood’s Legacy Arts Project. The National Endowment for the Arts provided a $50,000 “Our Town” grant for the project; The Heinz Endowments contributed nearly $50,000.
In August 2022, Bridgeway issued an open call for artists to design the furnishings. Six of 10 artists who applied were selected to compete and paid stipends for their concepts, says Katie Schaible, Bridgeway’s director of programs. A committee that included Homewood community representatives reviewed the designs and chose Patterson and Raye to create the furnishings.
A Wilkinsburg fabricating shop, Technique Architectural Products, provided the artists with templates for the products and later constructed the pieces.
“I think the artists nailed it,” says Schaible.
All four items can be replicated or customized for other sites and ordered through Bridgeway’s Monmade initiative, which helps artists and makers market locally sourced products for sale and placement.
Raye, 36, says the ECO: Homewood process was “tricky” because he needed to consider a host of factors: incorporating the Homewood community brand, how the pieces would be manufactured “and how can I invest this product with my voice as a creator?”
He describes his design for the bench and planter — both of which are green metal with black trim — as “a pattern of growth” that he hopes is “organic” and will “mesh with nature.”
“As a designer, I’m obsessive and a perfectionist, thinking of every square centimeter,” says Raye whose studio, TOMO, was based at 7800 Susquehanna until recently.
A Connecticut native, Raye has relocated to his home state where his wife is pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship in computational neuroscience at Yale University.
“We would both like to ultimately return to Pittsburgh, which very much feels like home to us,” he says.
Raye calls 7800 Susquehanna “a magical place” to create and fabricate his products, which include collections for home interiors, gardens and offices.
“Bridgeway and Monmade are incredible resources for the arts community in Pittsburgh,” he says.
Raye, who says he grew up “fabricating things and woodworking in my grandfather’s garage,” studied cognitive and computer science as an undergraduate at Bard College and later entered an architectural program at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
While at Harvard in 2013, he became frustrated building models by hand with cardboard and purchased a 3D printer to ease the process.
He was “delighted and gobsmacked” with the results; his teachers weren’t as enthusiastic about the innovation.
“The faculty was furious. I got a lot of pushback and flunked a class on account” of using the then-new technology, Raye says.
He left Harvard, earned a master’s degree in product development at Carnegie Mellon University, and became a product manager for IBM Watson, which makes artificial intelligence systems to analyze data in commercial applications.
When the Pittsburgh office of IBM Watson closed, he opened TOMO.
“I decided to hang my shingle as a designer,” says Raye. “I’ve always been at the intersection of humanities and technology.”
Patterson won art contests in middle school and high school, and after graduating from Dean Institute of Technology (now Rosedale Technical College), worked as a professional welder.
“So anything I make has to be structurally sound,” he says.
He founded KMJ Metalworks, his design business, in 2011 and named it for his three children: Kalei, Mya and Jordan.
His commercial installations include pieces at Duquesne University’s St. Martin Hall apartments, the Frick Building’s Tenant Innovation Center, and 7800 Susquehanna, where he created wall hangings for the interior of the Sarah B. Campbell Enterprise Center and a mural for the center’s entrance.
Patterson works out of his home and connected with Monmade in 2015 after securing a $10,000 loan from Bridgeway for supplies and to outsource laser cutting and water jet cutting processes for his designs.
Monmade’s efforts to market his works “is huge from an entrepreneur’s perspective,” he says. “I always wanted to start my own business. My artwork is my muse, my comfort, my peace.”
For the trash can and bike rack at 7800 Susquehanna, Patterson relied on a clean, uncluttered style he always strives for.
The bike rack is solid black with a cut-out for The Homewood Experience logo; the black trash can features red and green panels and the logo.