“There were naked bodies everywhere” is not usually what you hear when you ask someone how he got started in concrete.
Let me back up. I recently spoke with Joren Smith, owner of Elements Concrete Inc located on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Here is the fascinating story of how he evolved into the concrete artisan he is today.
Joren started his first business in high school, and was soon making more money than the teachers. But after a few years it got out of control, with debt, taxes and all the things that he didn’t learn about in high school. Joren reports, “The industrial complex where I was renting space had some interesting characters.”
One of those interesting characters happened to be none other than the great Hiram Ball, inventor of Forton polymer for GFRC and a giant in the industry. If you know anything about Hiram, you know that he was also an artist, and his primary art form was life casting in concrete.
Joren walked into Hiram’s shop, and “There were naked bodies everywhere. I was maybe 22, 23 at the time. This got me interested in concrete,” he laughs. Joren sold off his landscaping business and started learning a new trade.
Hiram had a wealth of technical knowledge, but it took time before Joren was able to understand. He became a sponge, soaking up knowledge from every source he could find. He wasn’t able to afford a formal class, so it involved a lot of trial and error. But he likes solving problems, so even though there were plenty of days he wanted to quit, he kept going and kept learning.
“Sealers almost put me out of business more than once. I made a lot of mistakes, like putting an acrylic on a commercial bartop. That got me a callback within days, accompanied by a photo of stains everywhere.” Since April 2022, Joren has been using Omega and Ovation sealers, and hasn’t had a callback since. “Sealer is critical. You can make the best concrete in the world, but if you put a bad sealer on it, it’s ruined.”
Joren has also come to understand the importance of valuing your work. “I am not a servant. I am an artisan.” Like many artisans, he has faced burnout and felt like giving up. “As a creative person I find it difficult to not become dragged down by having to create everyone else’s vision 12 hours a day 6 days a week while all my own ideas are filed away in the back of my mind never to see the light of day.”
To combat this, Joren has raised his prices from about $100 per square foot in early 2020 to $185 per square foot plus installation in mid 2022. He is still swamped with work. But he carves out time to create his art, and he works hard to find good people to help him.
Joren is a 4th generation Cape Cod artist. While he is not a painter like his mom, or a carpenter like his dad, he is bringing his artistic vision to the Northeast – one concrete creation at a time.
Here is Joren’s artist statement about the concrete fish sculpture pictured above:
“Its title is “Between Cast’s”. The concrete fish are mounted to a slab of hickory. It’s not so much “cast’s” in a fishing sense. I worked on this between casting projects for clients over the last few days. A lot of the time I find myself in a hurry up and wait pattern when it comes to concrete. Especially on casting days so I decided to use that idle time to create this. For me the fish represent two people who are navigating an unpredictable future they share together yet are doing so with mindful conviction. I find peace in this.”
I’d say there is a lot of peace and beauty in Joren’s work. Visit the Elements Concrete Inc Instagram for more photos.