Palo Alto High School's Arts and Culture Magazine

C Magazine

Palo Alto High School's Arts and Culture Magazine

C Magazine

Palo Alto High School's Arts and Culture Magazine

C Magazine

Metal Wonderland

How one woman creates upcycled metal art to transform her home

Among the intertwining aspen trees of Waverley street, the Ford house pokes through. A composition of bright stucco walls and sculptures strategically placed throughout the yard, the shapes and colors are curated to stand out, making the house a public art piece for the people of Palo Alto to enjoy. 

The owner, 87 year-old Rochelle Ford is a longtime resident of Palo Alto and has been creating elaborate metal sculptures for almost three decades. From the time she quit her job 29 years ago, Ford has been sharing her artwork with the community.

She cites her difficult past as an inspiration and major influence on her art—Ford and her husband defied social norms in order to live together. 

Ford grew up in a primarily white neighborhood in Pennsylvania. When she was 15, she started dating her husband, Henry Ford.

Throughout the mid 20th century, interracial marriages were heavily scrutinized. Despite the recent strides in the Civil Rights movement, the two of them faced countless barriers in order to be together. Their community wasn’t always accepting of her marriage.

“In 1977 my husband was one of the first 12 Blacks to ever play pro football,” Ford said. “He played for the Cleveland Browns and the Steelers, and when they found out we were dating, they called him… and said, do you want to date white girls or do you want to play professional football?”

After Henry’s professional football career ended, the couple started to job search in their area. However, each endeavor and job they partook became dull, so they decided to move throughout the country seeking business opportunities. After their children were born, the Fords decided they needed to settle down. 

When the Fords moved to Palo Alto in 1977, they faced stark criticism from the neighborhood for their interracial marriage. As a result, the family attempted to subdue the backlash they received by restyling their house. 

“[Moving in] was very controversial… so, we tried to fit into the historical neighborhood we were in,” Ford said. “We painted everything inside and the total outside white.” 

Later that year, while Ford was in the front yard examining the fresh paint, she saw that the white color had caused all the unique and elaborate features of the house she had fallen in love with to simply blend in. 

“When it was painted white, you couldn’t even tell there was a balcony,” Ford said. 

Armed with a paintbrush, Ford began to paint the house with a couple of friends. 

“When my girl friends and I painted it, we painted the front,” Ford said. “Then my husband said, ‘well, how about the two sides in the back?’ I said, ‘no, I just care about the front.’” 

They later hired a painter to finish the remaining walls. The house, now covered in decadent orange and violet paint, created mixed reactions among onlookers. 

“People either loved it or they hated it, and fortunately all I ever heard was mostly from the people who liked it,” Ford said. “I was always happy to hear that: ‘Oh I like your house.’”

When she was 58, Ford’s interests started expanding and she wanted to restyle the house again. 

Her family had all worked in some form of reusing; her mother sold luxury second-hand clothing, her father sold used cars, while her brother used metal as a goldsmith. It only seemed right that Ford sought out to create art, using the tools of her brother and the mindset of her parents. 

“[Although] my brother uses the same equipment, he does very different things with it,” Ford said. “It [his job] was so technical … I knew I didn’t want to do that, so I taught myself to be a welder.”

Ford sparked an interest in welding while on her way to work. 

“I worked downtown in Palo Alto right next to Ellison’s, which was a car repair shop,” Ford said. “I would go up the alley to Whole Foods to get something for lunch and… I’d see these smashed up cars…I’d just [instantly see] sculptures. Cut this piece up, do this, put these together.” 

Once Rochelle laid her eyes on the scattered pieces of a car, she could envision the finished state of a metallic creation.

Ford makes sculptures from almost every material under the sun, from unused nails to clothes hangers. She often displayed her sculptures in and around her house by holding open exhibitions. People from the community visit her home and observe her art creations, some even knocking on the door to buy pieces. 

Despite the variety of sculptures Ford creates, there are a few which she holds dear to her heart. One such piece is titled ‘Isadora’. She conceived Isadora’s design while passing by a local car shop. 

“I picked up some metal [from] an old Volkswagen fender [at] Ellison’s,” Ford said. “The second I saw where the headlight was, I saw a face and I knew all that rest would be her hair. I made and called… her Isadora.” 

The creation became extremely well-liked among prospective buyers. Even so, Ford refused to remake or sell the sculpture.

Most of the time I just keep it [Isadora] hidden,” Ford said. “Once you make something, people say, ‘oh make me one just like that’… I can’t, I just make one of a kind things.”

Although she has since stopped holding these exhibitions, Ford recently started to showcase more of her art in her yard, which continues to serve as a public gallery for Palo Alto residents. 

Ford continues to make sculptures, toiling away hours with metal and heat. As she’s gotten older, she has forgotten her regular day-to-day activities.

“But I haven’t forgotten how to weld,” Ford said.

In 2021, Henry Ford passed away. Through their breathtaking legacy on the city of Palo Alto, the Fords continue to influence the community. Grief hasn’t been easy for Rochelle Ford, but her art has been an outlet. Her life melts away when her rods hit the plate.

“I’m a mother, I’m a friend, I’m a sister, I’m an aunt, I’m a grandmother, but when I go into that room and close that door, I’m me,” Ford said.

Instead of breaking down, she pulls herself into the metal shop. The conviction to make her late husband proud keeps her coming back, creating.

“You know, you miss them,” Ford said. “[but] if you honor [Henry’s] life by living yours to the fullest, he’d be proud of you.”

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About the Contributors
Ria Mirchandani, Staff Writer
2023-2024 Staff Writer I joined C-Mag because I’m passionate about the exploration of culture and art. I was drawn in by the creative stories and eye catching design on past issues. I’ve always wanted to write about music, art, and engage with the world around me. I love that C-Mag is a way to be involved in the Paly community and explore the world of Journalism. I care a lot about advocacy for diversity and the relationship between intersectionality and culture. In my free time, I like to draw, read, go thrifting, take photos, and spend time with my friends & family!
Sophia Dong, Staff Writer
2023-2024 Staff Writer   I joined CMag because I thought writing about culture and arts was extremely unique. Additionally, the feature-centered writing was really appealing as I started appreciating the intersection of visual art and writing. My favorite part of CMag is the community. I enjoy interacting with other individuals sharing who also appreciate arts and culture. I love journalism because I enjoy writing! I feel like it gives me an opportunity to develop my writing skills and express my thoughts in a unique way. While I haven't been as interested in design, I enjoy formatting and coming up with concept ideas for a given spread. Aside from journalism, I'm interested in engineering, especially circuits and audio analyzing. I also enjoy applied math and physics. Additionally, I play the flute and am currently in a youth orchestra. In college, I hope to major in applied math or electrical engineering/computer science (EECS). I also look forward to continuing my flute endeavors and joining a college publication!