On a searing, sun-soaked day, Sally Turner is organizing the final details of The Steel Yard’s 2018 summer courses with a vibrant attitude and a warm vibe. The development director’s passion for The Steel Yard is palpable; she revels in showcasing each department of the community industrial arts stalwart and clearly treasures the labor and history bound to these grounds. On this day, with the ceramics class kick-off looming, people are prepping and focused. Turner is beaming with intense admiration for the Yard’s past and its future.
Providence has bred this fertile, 3.8-acre National Historic Site over the past 17 years, and Turner’s prominent goal is to propagate community. She boasts of paying fair wages to the employees — teachers and trainees alike. The Steel Yard teaches classes for three seasons (no heat, no winter classes) to neighborhood and outside residents (they’re currently creating fence medallions with Bristol residents), and they have a division dedicated to public projects working with community partners, such as Lifespan who is getting superb and sturdy steel benches for their campus. She cultivates a sense of guidance and camaraderie in these fellowships and classes, and instructors often are past Steel Yard artists who have a desire to replicate their experience for others.
At The Steel Yard are independent artists devoted to their craft who represent many stages in a career, and Turner acknowledges the Yard’s role in being the impetus for many artists’ small businesses. Providing for up to 12 trainees or students in each class, the Yard is an open shared studio for anyone willing to pay attention and put in some hard work. The ideal community member taking a course “has an open mind,” states Turner. Besides being over the age of 15, no other requirements exist — the Providence residents who have taken courses through the years tick every demographic box possible.
The space is massive – vast and dripping with history. Faculty at The Steel Yard saved every bit of the past by recycling, repurposing and redefining. Imposing gantries run the width of the Yard – daunting in their authority, reminding guests of the massive steel loads that the gantries relieved from incoming trains.
The Steel Yard will offer courses in blacksmithing, welding, jewelry and ceramics this summer. “It is craft and art and trade,” offers Turner as she point out the tools that she proudly lauds as “very analog. We intend to remain that way.” As we traverse the main foundry, she points out the sections designed for welding, blacksmithing, jewelry and ceramics. She warns me not to look at the active welding occurring. She explains the coal-fired blacksmithing stations, including a cast iron press that just celebrated its 105th birthday by pressing a cupcake after being serenaded. This summer, blacksmithing workshops are aimed at beginners with projects such as forging a knife or a bottle opener. Summer welding workshops are offered on six summer weekends with additional two-day courses – laced with intriguing names such as Welding with Dad and Camp Metal head — taught during weekdays.
The sun is driving through the 20-foot, ceiling-high window panes into the un-air-conditioned space (wear sunblock to this place — seriously). Turner shows me the jewelry den with eight desks ready for patient and steady-handed crews to attend. Copper classes, silvercasting and introduction courses will be offered, along with ones focused on handmade chains and rings.
As we move through ceramics, the airy and vast section at the end of the building, Jane Dillion exchanges memories with Turner. Dillion, a fellow here, is preparing the area for the inaugural class of summer 2018. Turner explains that ceramics is the most popular class here. I wondered if it’s the least intimidating with its malleable media. But Dillion says that students in ceramics — school teachers to physicians — comment on the soothing and calming impact of the ceramics process and the focus on individual space. “The hive mind,” Dillion calls it.
Turner shows me the firing room. While proud of two new electric/digital kilns, supplementing the other older one, Turner loves in the wood fire kiln on the other side of the campus. It appears as a brick cave designed for forced perspective, and looks like the hull of a ship below deck. Sally explains that the fire requires constant feeding of wood, and fire feeders have to stay in the space for 72 hours straight. Sally describes the dedication required to feed the fire for three days. “They bring their family, their dogs. They bring food,” Sally states as we pass a conveniently positioned gas grill. “They camp out.” The wood kiln gives the glaze a unique look, which makes the extra effort so worth it. Turner expands on the idea, “A wood fire gives a very different – a very natural – process than the computerized kiln to the glass. It looks more natural, grainier.” She comments that the unpredictable variations are due to the wild flames.
Using these analog, archaic, proven methods is a good allegory for The Steel Yard and its ethos. No one is allowed to have private studio space. Everyone must interact and learn from the community. People stay and continue to give into The Steel Yard because they find fulfillment there. The summer courses will continue to create that same sense of gratitude.
Fundamentals of Blacksmithing: Instructor, Willow Zietman; Jun 4 – Jul 23; 6:30 – 9:30pm
Forge Your Own Bottle Opener: A Beginners Workshop: Instructor, John Harvey; Aug 7; 6:30 – 9:30pm
Blacksmithing A Simple Knife: Instructor, Willow Zietman; Aug 11 – 12; 10am – 4:30pm
Introduction to Welding: Thinking 3D: Instructor, Nora Rabins; Jun 20 – Aug 15; 6:30 – 9:30pm
Weekend Welding Workshop: Instructor, Elliot Berry; Jun 2 – 3; 10am – 4:30pm
Weekend Welding Workshop: Instructor, Nora Rabins; Jun 9 – 10; 10am – 4:30pm
Welding With Dad: Instructor, Max Van Pelt; Jun 16 – 17; 10am – 4:30pm
TIG Welding Workshop: Instructor, Elliot Berry; Jun 30 – Jul 1; 10am – 4:30pm
Weekend Welding Workshop: Instructor, Mike White; Jul 7 – 8; 10am – 4:30pm
TIG Welding Workshop: Instructor, Elliot Berry; Jul 14 – 15; 10am – 4:30pm
Weekend Welding Workshop: Instructor, Nora Rabins; Jul 21 – 22; 10am – 4:30pm
Weekend Welding Workshop: Instructor, Mike White; Aug 4 – 5; 10am – 4:30pm
Weekend Welding Workshop: Instructor, Geoff Hawley; Aug 11 – 12; 10am – 4:30pm
Camp Metalhead: Instructor, Mike White; Jul 16 – 20; 10am – 3:30pm
Crafting Organic Jewelry: Instructor, Amie Plante; Jul 14 – 15; 10am – 4:30pm
Intro to Wax Casting: Instructor, Amie Plante; Jul 17 – Aug 7; 6:30 – 9:30pm
Intro to Silversmithing: Raising Vessels and Cups: Instructor, Patrick McMillan; Aug 4 – 5; 10am – 4:30pm
Introduction to Jewelry: Instructor, Alison Bruun; Jul 18 – Aug 13; 6:30 – 9:30pm
Creating a Set of Jewelry: Instructor, Brijette Stamp; Jul 20 – Aug 15; 6:30 – 9:30pm
Handmade Chains: Instructor, Amie Plante; Jun 9 – 10; 10am – 4:30pm
Ring Making Workshop: Instructor, Amie Plante; Jun 16 – 17; 10am – 4:30pm
Camp Copperhead: Instructor, Heather Guidero; Jul 16 – 20; 10am – 3:30pm
Surface Design for the Ceramic Form: Instructor, Fredric Gorman; Jun 14 – Aug 2; 6:30 – 9:30pm
Wheel Generated Form: Instructor, Danika Notar; Jun 19 – Aug 7; 6:30 – 9:30pm
Handbuilding: Coil Techniques and Round Shapes: Instructor, Patti Barnatt; Jun 25 – Jul 30; 6:30 – 9:30pm
Ceramics II: Tips, Tricks, and Open Studios: Instructor, Jane Dillon; Jun 20 – Aug 1; 6:30 – 9:30pm
Camp Clayhead: Jul 16 – 20; 10am – 3:30pm