Sometimes rejection is a blessing in disguise.

After Ryder Henry was passed over for Contemporary Craft‘s newest exhibition, Shelter, they called him with a different offer:

How’d he like to be their next artist-in-residence?

“This is much better,” he chuckles.

Sign Up Now -- Keep up with the ideas and people advancing Pittsburgh!

On weekdays, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. until October 14, Henry will work in public at Contemporary Craft’s Strip District gallery space as he adds to the ever-developing, miniature cityscape that has been slowly growing for the better part of the last decade.

Ryder exhibited a similar work with several of the same elements during an artist-in-residence stint at the Mattress Factory in 2014.

On a recent weekday morning, Henry is deep into his craft. Seated in a well-lit corner, his gaze fixes intently on an old Yuengling six-pack holder. With expert precision, he slices and dices tiny rectangles that will become windows in a new, intricate, three-foot tall “antenna building” skyscraper.

Henry’s miniature worlds, where rocket ships idle next to soaring high-rises, evoke equal parts Blade Runner and Miyazaki.

“I have always loved making models,” says Henry. “But being in Pittsburgh has been inspiring for model making, just to be around things that are interesting to look at.”

Henry moved to Pittsburgh about a decade ago from upstate New York with his wife Maya, who—fun fact—was NEXTpittsburgh‘s former City Design Editor. (Hi, Maya!)

Henry also works on a macro scale, having created murals in Beechview, and for Kaliedoscope Cafe in Lawrenceville. At Contemporary Craft, his models are surrounded by a series of retro-futuristic “fairground paintings” he describes as “agrarian socialism to the nth degree” that blur the line between utopia and dystopia.

And then there are the spaceships: big, black hole-powered star cruisers inspired by Star Trek and patterned in cryptic, Day-Glo symbols like a tie-dyed interstellar Rosetta Stone from the future.

“Ryder’s fantasy sci-fi sculptures and paintings seem to be reflections of everyone’s mixed reality and dreams,” says Contemporary Craft’s Executive Director Janet McCall. “They’re so accessible, yet they really take your breath away. I walk into Contemporary Craft each morning and I’m blown away anew by his work, his fresh forms, and the unexpected surprises in the details.”

Henry typically bikes to Contemporary Craft after dropping off his kids at daycare. He has been enjoying the residency and tells the story of a father with two young sons who stopped the other day to chat and watch him work.

“They were the most patient kids,” says Henry. “They stood here and waited for me to make tiny skyscrapers for them. It took 15 minutes. We just hung out. The kids were easygoing.”

“I’ve had really nice interactions here.”