Detroit City Limits | What's Going on in Detroit


Detroit Windmills Project brings Sustainable Energy and Art to Eastern Market

Metal working expert and owner of CAN Art Handworks Carlos Nielbock hopes the Detroit Windmills project, which marries art and technology, will also shines a light on old-fashioned artisan skills doesn’t think should disappear.

Nielbock learned blacksmithing and other metalworking skills in his birth country, Germany, and brought those with him to the Detroit when he moved to the U.S. in the 1980s.

His business focuses on restoration, and one of his first big jobs in the U.S. was restoring all the decorative metalwork in the iconic Fox Theatre.
Nielbock began to look into building windmills when he noticed a decline in skilled trades like the ones he practices. He says contemporary design has done away with the curls and flourishes in the metalwork, and design has become much more functional, while his work is ornamental.

“But I refuse to surrender and folks up the tent,” Nielbock says. “We need to find new ways to apply these skilled trades that built North America. When I searched for something that was within my capabilities, windmills came to mind.” Nielbock also didn’t like that  windmills used for power generation all feature the same, industrial design, and wanted to build something beautiful. He built several windmills out of reclaimed materials and conducted an eight-year test run with them on his own property.

Nielbock, in partnership with Eastern Market Corp., received a Knight Arts Challenge grant to create wind turbine that combine art and technology to power a cellphone charging station and help irrigate crops in Detroit’s Eastern Market district. Currently, the project’s Patronicity drive has raised over $6,000 but needs to reach $25,000 to unlock the Knight challenge grant and ensure a matching grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

The project is meant as a showcase to demonstrate that small, urban windmills can work, but a crowd-funding campaign will allow the Detroit windmill project to flourish and expand. For instance, the former Greening of Detroit Market Garden site is not being used, but future plans would use a hydro-pump windmill of Nielbock’s design and made from upcycled materials to irrigate crops with stormwater. The garden would be used as a demonstration site for school children to learn about science topics. 

Nielbock says he believes that conservation and restoration will be key in bringing Detroit back to life.“It’s paramount to preserve the skilled trades that originally built it in the first place,” Nielbock says.

To find out more about the Detroit windmill project or make a donation, visit www.patronicity.com and search for CAN Art Wind Turbine Project.

​~Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in southeast Michigan. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

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