Oakland, California


When I think of a metalworker I think of a bulky man laboring in some dark and dusty shed. I can imagine him banging a sledgehammer against a hot iron rod with slivers of sunlight barely shining through small windows. Zai told us that while that misconception might be somewhat true for a blacksmith, she’s definitely not that. Instead, Zai works with thin pieces of metal and marble to achieve artful pieces of work. The prism-like design she is becoming known for is now sought out by folks in the San Francisco area. She’s also incredibly bright and bubbly, laughs easy and is a joy to be around. Which again, is not something I initially consider a blacksmith to be.

As we were taking photos of Zai welding with our eyes closed, I began to feel a little tense. I recalled as a high schooler smoothing pieces of wood with mechanical sanders. I felt nervous around the machines and being in the whole workshop. And that was just wood. Zai said she remembers feeling intimidated when she was young too (which now that I say it I realize most kids probably are), but unlike me, she overcame her fear. She quickly learned how to use the machines and fell in love with it.

But as the story often goes, she graduated from Yale with a Psychology degree and found something in that field of work to pay the bills. It wasn’t until a few years after graduating that she decided to try out metalworking again. She fell back into it naturally, like riding a bike again. She made a few pieces for some friends and then their friends wanted one too. Soon she was selling them to more referred customers. She decided, hey why don’t I do this to pay the bills? By the looks of it, she’s doing quite fine.

Check out Elektra Steel to see some of her work.

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