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Mendhi hands by Pushpa Jain. Photographer unknown. All rights reserved.Fish decoy. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Embroidered dress detail. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Cedar bird by Glen VanAntwerp. Photo by Al Kamuda. All rights reserved.
Michigan Heritage Awards

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Photo by Mary Whalen

Photo by C. Kurt Dewhurst

Tony Martinez
1996 awardee, Detroit (Wayne County), ornamental iron worker

Ornamental ironwork is a widespread Hispanic tradition, and Tony Martinez, b. 1948, is a key figure in the perpetuation of that tradition in Detroit. Tony was born in Cadas in the southwest region of Colombia, where almost every house has window guards and decorative doors and gates made of ornamental iron. In Tony's mind, "a typical street scene has scrolled ornamental iron displayed everywhere." (1)

Members of the Martinez family have been ironworkers for a number of years, specializing in a type of ironwork known as the Spanish scroll style. Tony first learned his ironmaking skills by watching his uncle in Colombia and, after immigrating to Detroit, by working with his brother Joe. In 1971 Tony and his brothers established a decorative iron business. Eventually Tony took over the business, re-named it Disenos Ornamental Iron, and relocated it in the heart of Detroit's Mexican Town. He employs a year-round staff of 4 and as many as 30 skilled and experienced ornamental ironworkers during busier times of the year. Many of the seasonal workers are from Latin American countries and, after the busy season is over, some return home.

According to Tony, "this is hard work, you really need sometimes to concentrate working 12-14 hour days." (2) His and his employees' hard work has paid off and the products of Disenos Ornamental Iron are evident in windows, doors, gates, and fences throughout Mexican Town. Tony even designed and fabricated a special Mexican Town logo that is affixed to lampposts in Mexican Town.

Because of Tony's dedication to fine craftsmanship and his skill in creating new designs in iron, he is now greatly in demand by architects and building contractors for crafting ironwork. He is counted among a select group of artisans whose high-quality work is suitable for both new buildings and for restorations of older buildings. As a result, his Spanish scroll traditional ironwork as well as innovative designs can now be seen on private and public buildings throughout the metropolitan Detroit area.

(1) Martinez, Tony. Personal communication with Kurt Dewhurst. 16 September 1994.
(2) Martinez, Tony. Personal communication with Kurt Dewhurst. 16 September 1994.

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