If you think of an elaborate marquee as a sort of outsized tiara for a theater, then Kate Schmidt’s career path doesn’t seem quite so peculiar. She graduated from the College of Mount St. Joseph with a degree in fine arts and once worked as a jewelry maker, but today you’ll find her shielded by a welding helmet, creating the unique gates, railings, fences, shop signs, furniture, and even marquees that distinguish the city’s hippest neighborhoods.
Her metalworking company, Kate Schmidt Design & Fabrication, grew out of an interest in applying her craft on a larger scale. She worked with her brother Greg, a furniture maker, for a time, then joined Vulkane Industrial Arts, the Cincinnati metalworking studio where she honed her welding skills (“Arc, MIG, and TIG,” she says with some pride) before establishing her own company. You know her work if you’ve passed by the classy fence around Tender Mercies or under the sign for Northside Tavern or if you’ve admired the restored facade of the Woodward Theater in Over-the-Rhine. She created its copper marquee based on vintage photographs.
For the massive Woodward project Schmidt hired additional craftspeople, but much of the time she works alone. Her 5,000-square-foot shop in Pendleton is an oddity—an old commercial building in the middle of a narrow, densely-packed 19th century residential street. She bought it in 2009 and, despite the recent arrival of craft beer, cool condos, and soaring neighborhood property values, she’s here for good. “Moving a workshop is difficult,” Schmidt says. “I wanted to stay forever.”