Composition & Connection

A Modern Metalsmith’s Journal on Forging Education & Sculpture

Forging Focus group shot – Photo: Jarrod Bunk

Forging Focus Weeks 5 & 6

     I had given a lot of thought to how I wanted to handle the last two weeks of the Forging Focus asking myself, “How can I make this the most productive time for the students?”  Typically, during longer duration educational programs, I like to finish with a more intricate project that involves a complicated assembly with lots of parts that demand a keen attention to detail.

     Due to lower enrollment this year, I decided to handle the final two weeks a little differently.  We had three students that each had different interests when it comes to forging and I felt like it was appropriate this year to challenge them to design and build their own final project.  (I love structure in the forging classroom, so this approach with 8 students could get a little crazy)  Design and research played a stronger role in this year’s Forging Focus and I feel it had a lot to do with the success of the workshop. I plan to continue to stress this aspect of the craft through education as a way to create work that is strong both conceptually and technically.  I feel like all the student’s final projects were completed with a level of confidence that the design and discussion process helped with.

Jim & Austin looking with a critical eye

      Each student searched deep inside themselves and figured out what it was about forging that they wanted to explore.  At this point it was my responsibility to help the students execute their idea to the best of their ability.  This is both the most challenging and rewarding part of being an educator.  It is important to step back and let them take the reins (tong pun there) and play a supportive roll helping in all aspects of designing and building. 

     During the design process I try really hard to get a strong sense of what the students want to accomplish, this is very beneficial when It comes time to build.  Since this is their project and their idea, I feel like my main roll here is to make sure it is within the realm of possibility, meaning they can handle it from a technical standpoint, and our shop handle it. I have been working with them now for four weeks so I have a good sense of what they can accomplish technically, and I know if we have the tooling or capacity to handle their project, and if not then the time to make it.   

Sculpture

     With sculpture, the concept is just as important as the process and the challenge is to find some sort of blend between the two without letting either sacrifice one another. This is where it really pays to listen to the student and as the instructor not micromanage the project. It’s very easy to just say “Well I would forge it like this” and sometimes that is appropriate and helpful, but sometimes it might take away from the concept, so that kind of feedback walks a fine line.  I loved this experience, and  how challenging it was.

Sculpture by Austin Rose

Furniture & Functional Objects 

     This is a completely different animal than sculpture. Although one has to focus on a lot of the same things, it’s much more of a technical challenge than conceptual. This kind of work is a lot easier for me to be definitive about what will work and what will not. The Challenge with furniture also lies in the design and even though the work is not “conceptual” the concept in this case is technique and functionality. For this particular project the benefit I can provide is helping design something that will function to the student’s satisfaction. We worked on multiple drawings which allowed us to figure out things like material sizes, dimensions, and try to anticipate construction complications in order to resolve them before the actual forging began. Following this process I think the strongest roll I played was assisting with layout. Jim had plenty of skills at the hammer and anvil, but was open about uncertainties in the assembly process. This allowed me to share a lot of tricks and tips about complicated assembly and orders of operation to prevent struggle.  

Above: James Burr’s completed end table


Below: Zach after being caught in the rain with his newly forged hammers 

      It was a very rich experience working so closely with all the students and assisting as they researched designed, forged, experimented, and challenged themselves. I know that the workshops are 100% for the students, but I would be remised if I didn’t mention how much I learn about being an instructor, working with individuals, learning about my process, and how to communicate about it. Because of that I would like to thank our students, not only for their interest and support of CMA, but all that they teach me as well.  These workshops always leave me energized and inspired!      

     Of course this whole program is not possible without a strong team. Courtney in our office, keeping everything together as we teach, and Dan and Tim, thank you so much for all your hard work! Thank you all for reading these blogs and for your interest in CMA, here’s to a safe rest of the year and a great 2021!

Pat