Defense contractor to sculptor: Mercersburg man uses pandemic for a creative career change


Artists carve the largest Chambersburg IceFest sculpture, a piece exhibiting bears, sponsored by David H. Martin Excavating, Inc.

Drive around Mercersburg, and you will see a life-size, aluminum horse outside a front yard.

Look a little closer, and there are a couple of other sculptures, nestled behind a warehouse.

The art, which has caught some of the town’s eye, is created by Craig Schwartz. But, the self-described “semi-retired and full-time artist” says he never intended his art to get this big.

“I didn’t really intend on launching (my art); it wasn’t like a formal thing,” Schwartz said. “I just kind of started posting stuff on Facebook and other social media, and people started loving it. So, I made another, and another.”

“Creative” defense contracting

Schwartz became the founder of Mitigation Technologies in 1991, when he invented SAFETYDRAPE. The invention is a patented, bulletproof curtain that is designed to alleviate flying glass shards and debris created by a blast.

“We have them deployed all over the world, from the White House to Korea,” Schwartz said.

Mitigation Technologies has developed products to harden walls against blasts, modular fences, ballistic rolling panels and industrial fragmentation mitigation systems, among many other products.

“I became known as a guy that comes up with creative different ways to stop threats,” Schwartz said. “In the beginning, it was very difficult to show an engineer a piece of polyester. They didn’t believe it would work until they saw our videos and our test data. I was using Judo to stop the bomb, and all they knew how to do is put that concrete steel linebacker in front.”

Schwartz explained that he designs prototypes for different projects, and then contracts them out for other people to make.

“I don’t want to be in the manufacturing business anymore,” Schwartz said. “That’s why I call it semi-retirement.”

His success in defense work stemmed from quite a simple motto – stop a bigger bullet for less money.

“Everybody else is trying to design the fanciest one, they can have more bells and whistles, which drove the cost up,” Schwartz said. “I said, ‘I’m going to stop a bigger bullet for less money. So that was my concept for the ballistic program, and it took off like crazy. We were awarded the contract for the Pennsylvania National Guard.”

To the artist, the COVID-19 pandemic was a blessing in disguise. 

“It was kind of a blessing to me because it kind of forced me to have more time doing art,” Schwartz said. “The phones don’t ring, the military wasn’t buying my product, salespeople didn’t want to work for a company that wasn’t selling anything.”

Bulletproof glass to a full-scale horse

His first work, the Armor of God, is a full-scale sculpture made from scrap aluminum in the warehouse.

“I learned about the armor of God one day in church; and it was just powerful,” Schwartz said. “I figured I’m going to make an armature, and I’m going to cover it with this plaster stuff I found online, to make it bronze. I added a little more aluminum and a little more aluminum, and people walked by and said, ‘That’s perfect, just like it is!’”

“It ended up being a very unique style; if you go online, you can’t find somebody who puts together a bunch of aluminum like I did,” Schwartz said. “And it wasn’t even intentional, it just turned out that I created my own unique style of sculpting.”

Since then, Schwartz has created a statue of Moses, horses and a warrior woman – named Prayer for the Cure – to auction at a cystic fibrosis event in October. He is currently working on two commissioned pieces, both Cleveland Bay horses.

“I didn’t really think that horses might end up being the greatest market for us,” Schwartz said. “I was going to go more in the direction of humans and warriors. My wife and I went out to Loudon County one day for lunch; beautiful horse country, and I guess that was the first time I looked at horses differently – just beautiful and powerful.”

While each project is different, Schwartz uses a progression for each piece, getting an inspiration, drawing it to scale, bending the skeleton and skinning the aluminum. He documents his work, @CASmodern, on Instagram.

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He only uses aluminum now, but he hopes to delve into more mixed media to create sculptures.

Despite the new art career, defense contracting will always be a part of Schwartz’s life.

“It would be kind of tough for me to give it up completely,” Schwartz said. “I might give up going and knocking on doors or sending salespeople around the world, and financing people to go and marketing and trade shows and sales calls. But when somebody calls me for my product, it’s to save a good guy’s life. I’m always going to provide to the blue and green uniforms.”

Runs in the family

You could say it runs in the family for Schwartz.

His wife, Sarah, is the granddaughter of artist Charles Stoner. Stoner was known locally for his pen and ink drawings and paintings depicting historical events around Franklin County.

“He’s kind of like a local hero,” Schwartz said. “And we run into people from different states, states and states away, and they come to this town to see where Charles Stoner was inspired to do his art. Many of them are ‘Main Street’ Mercersburg; kind of your heritage and it feels good to be a part of that.”

Art, Schwartz says, has been an interest for him for years, but he wanted to dedicate more time into it.

“I’ve always been artistic, but I want to dedicate more and more time to art, and maybe I can make some things,” Schwartz said. “I could never hold a candle to Charles Stoner, but some pieces of art that could last forever. So, I wanted to make life scale outdoor things to live for generations.”

The 61-year-old hopes that his art can become his legacy.

“I’d like to sell it internationally,” Schwartz said. “I’d like to have a legacy; to have people enjoying my art for generations.”

But the satisfaction that comes with being an artist might be the best part of Schwartz’s new gig.

“Everybody wants to make more money,” Schwartz said. “But for me; to have somebody put enough trust in you and spend any money to commission you to do something, they trust you. But selling something that you can make with your hands, that no one else has ever made – you can’t beat it.”

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