SCOTT — The Juneaus like to play with fire. They’ve been doing it for decades, using high-temp torches to shape and fuse metal into unique jewelry, sculptures and furniture.
Pat and Suzanne Juneau met in college in Lafayette, and in the more than 50 years since, they married, taught school a short time and became full-time artists.
Their work continues today with double the hands. Their son, Andre, cuts designs in aluminum with a large CNC machine to help Pat create painted folk art sculptures and furniture, and daughter Angelique creates jewelry with her mom. Her favorite pieces are the more whimsical items like tiaras and headpieces.
Together they are Juneau Metalworks, a family business comprising two distinct styles of metal art. Pat and Suzanne also started the Louisiana Craft Guild, of which Andre is now the president.
‘I consider what I do mostly playing’
Suzanne, 73, sits beside two large tanks with an acetylene oxygen torch in her hand. She wears copper rings she made herself on almost every finger, an effort to soothe her arthritis. Goggles cover her eyes, a metal hairpin, which she also made, of course, holds back her hair.
“You need it,” she says about the barrette. “This (work) will burn your hair, no doubt about that.”
At this station in her shop behind their home in Scott, she uses different size tips on her torch to melt bronze rods and place them in a way that looks like she’s drawing with the molten metal.
“I’m just playing right now,” she says, making the bracelet. “I consider what I do mostly playing.
“That is the fun of it. You can do whatever you want when you want. I have an idea and can start working on it. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.”
It’s a practice she’s been perfecting since she took 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.
Working 9-5 versus being a full-time artist
Even when she briefly was working full-time in advertising or as an elementary teacher in New Iberia she was making and selling jewelry on the side. After several years of teaching she decided to try art full-time for one year.
“I thought, ‘I can eat rice and beans for a year,'” she said with a smile.
She and husband Pat found they could make a living off their art, planning in advance which shows they would attend to sell their wares. Then the kids joined them.
“I carried a folding baby bed,” Suzanne said. “They went with us and slipped under display table at Jazz Fest at 1 or 2 years old.”
They’re still traveling, having just completed the latest Jazz Fest in New Orleans in April.
“Not having a steady income is the hardest part,” she admits, “but you plan for that. Some years are better than others. That’s just the way life is.”
Once the metal she’s been torching is cool enough but still soft, she bends it with her hand, transforming the flat design into a curved bracelet.
She tops it with a bezel she made earlier and will pick out a stone for it to hold later. She drops the piece into a bowl of acid in a sink to remove the tarnish and then into a tumbler for a final polish.
“I’ve learned a lot of patience doing this,” she said. “It is not a profession 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 crank the roller in Suzanne’s shop, pressing patterns into the softened metal. Then he heads to the larger shop on their property where he and son Andre create their sculptures.
“We’ve been doing this almost 50 years,” Pat says.
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He began making jewelry with Suzanne and over the years moved into blacksmithing and cutting steel. His process has evolved to drawing out the designs for Andre 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 have a good time,” Suzanne said.
Their daughter, Angelique, might work with them in Scott or in her own home shop in New Iberia when she’s not teaching art at Epiphany Day School.
“I found taking art classes and lessons and growing up around art expanded my critical thinking skills, my creativity, broadened my mind,” she said. “It is fun to get to pass that on to kids, to encourage them to find a new way to figure something out. In art you get to solve problems and get to an end result in a million different ways.”
Like her parents, she loves working with metal and, admittedly, playing with fire. She finds inspiration in metal artifacts found in the pages of anthropology textbooks or shelves of museums.
“It’s a medium that really catches my interest and you get to play with fire and see what you can do,” Angelique said. “It’s versatile, and metal lasts.”