Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My Metal History

My interest in working with metals began years before I developed an interest in making jewelry.
It began when I was a landscape architect with Morgan Wheelock Incorporated in Boston.
I was fortunate to be involved in a wide variety of wonderful projects that typically included uniquely designed and fabricated elements.  In conjunction with the site plans, we often developed detailed drawings and specifications for railings, gate hardware and even drainage grates in order to capture the proper aesthetic for each project.
I always enjoyed coordinating with the metal fabricators and eventually decided that I needed to do what they were doing.
I signed up for a welding class at Brookline Adult & Community Education, taught at Brookline High School by the school's Industrial Arts instructor.
At the first class, there were seven students. 
I was the only female.
The instructor asked us to introduce ourselves and explain why we were taking the class.  I was the last one to do an introduction after listening to six explanations that involved classic car bumpers or motorcycle exhaust systems.
When I said, "I want to make garden ornament.", my fellow classmates shared looks with each other that suggested they were all thinking, "Who let the broad in the room?!"
I continued to go to class, but admitted to myself that this was not the right fit for me.
A better fit appeared when several projects in our office required handcrafted gate hardware, and a local blacksmith brought samples of his work to present to the project teams.
Everyone loved him and loved his work, and he was contracted to fabricate the hardware.
As he was leaving, I impulsively asked if he ever gave lessons and then described my previous attempt to infiltrate the male dominated adult-ed welding class.
He sometimes took on students, and agreed to let me take a series of lessons at the forge which he had built on his property.
This is not his forge.  The forge that he built was much more rustic and had an enchanting quality as did his family's property.
During my lessons, he told me the story of how he and his wife met when they were both Physics majors at MIT.  As a student, he already owned property in a suburb west of Cambridge and spent his weekends there clearing the land and building a house.  "I started at one corner and continued from there."
A girl in one of his classes asked why he was never around campus on the weekends.  She didn't believe him when he told her that he was building a house, so he drove her out the next weekend and she ended up working on the stone fireplace.
Several times, the stones she had set needed to be removed because they were not quite level. 
After many weekends, the fireplace was finally completed and she said, "Well...I think I have to marry you so that I can live with my fireplace."
By the time I started my lessons, they had been married for decades, had grown children and seemed to be completely delighted with the life that they had built together.
I loved being in their presence and I loved my lessons.
The first thing I made was this hook, similar to one that would have been made during colonial times.
As I worked on heating and hammering the iron, I would get a physics lesson that explained what happened to the metal as it was heated and work hardened.
One of my more ambitious projects was this gate handle.
I have yet to build the gate, so the handle stays tucked away waiting to be put to use.
Look closely and you can see the 'C' that I stamped in the lower triangle of the handle.


  1. What a great story! I can picture the faces of those dudes you were in the first class with. How awesome you were able to find a wonderful new teacher.

  2. I was totally out of place in that welding class, so I did understand the reaction to my 'garden ornament' comment. I'm glad that experience did not discourage me...you never know when a great mentor might enter your life.