More than 20 years ago, Lee Carter met a woman selling small nicho-style frames made out of recycled tin from misprinted juice cans while visiting a small town outside of San Miguel, Mexico.
Fascinated with the design and craftsmanship, Lee asked the woman for more information about the frame. He learned that the piece was made by her brother, Roberto Granados, and decided to pay the tinsmith a visit.
"I went the next Monday and found [Roberto] and told him I wanted him to make the same frame, but with the recycled part in front. I believe he thought I was a real nutcase," Lee explains. "But he made a dozen for me and I sold them immediately."
This began the more than two-decade-long business partnership and friendship between Lee and Roberto. Over time, Lee's orders grew to allow Roberto to design and craft tin frames full time. Now, they design the pieces together before Roberto crafts the first models. Roberto and two of his sons, Carlos and Luis Miguel, still craft each piece hand.
"He is brilliant in that he can grasp a concept and figure out how to make it in the real world," says Lee. "He has the brain and capacity of an engineer, although he has never had this type of education. Brilliant!"
Roberto and Lee's designs are in the permanent collection of the International Museum of Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Their work has also appeared in shows at the Oakland Museum and the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), as well as in the documentary film "Recycled Re-seen, Folk Art from the Global Scrap Heap," and several books including The Fine Art of the Tin Can by Bobby Hanson.