Forging Metal into Art Women Welders Flex Their Creativity
The basics of welding and metal fabrication are a key part of the sculpture program for art students at Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Sculpture students at the all-female liberal arts college visit a scrap yard each semester to find materials to incorporate into their pieces.
An all-female liberal arts college may not be the first thing that comes to mind when picturing welding education. But the basics of welding and metal fabrication are a key part of the sculpture program for art students at Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Students in the Converse arts program can major in art and choose sculpture as an area of concentration. Almost all of the art students take the Sculpture 1 course, where they get a taste of metal fabrication and an introduction to MIG welding and plasma cutting. The Converse welding lab uses Miller® equipment, and students in the introductory class use several Millermatic® 211 with Auto-Set™ machines for MIG welding and the Spectrum® 375 X-Treme™ plasma cutter.
“I want them to walk away from that class knowing what a MIG welder is and what a plasma cutter is so they can cut and fabricate on a basic level,” says Assistant Professor of Sculpture Greg Mueller, who teaches all of the college’s sculpture courses, overseeing about 30 students each semester. “The 211 is very user-friendly for that. Within one class period they can be up and working pretty independently on that machine.”
For students interested in delving deeper into metal fabrication and sculpture, the Sculpture 2, 3 and 4 courses provide more training in arc welding and TIG welding and introduce the students to more complicated welding techniques.
“Those classes tend to be more advanced students who want to keep metal work as a real focus of their time,” Mueller says. “It’s more about exposing them to what’s possible and some of the more complicated things.”
The students work a lot with mild steel, but also visit local scrap yards each semester, where they can find different types of materials and metals to incorporate into their sculpture pieces. The students might choose stainless steel or even rusted-out parts during those scrap yard visits.
“We see what kind of found forms and fabricated forms they can weave together to create their own interpretations. They might like the aged patina on something and want to keep that as part of their piece,” Mueller says. “There can be problems presented when you bring in found materials or found objects, related to some of the cleaning that’s required to prep the material or the more difficult welding process or joining dissimilar metals, so they learn how to deal with that.”
Some of the students may choose cast bronze or aluminum for a sculpture project, which might require more advanced welding techniques like TIG, which the students complete using the Syncrowave® 250 DX from Miller.
Some of the art students who focus on sculpture do get bitten by the welding bug. Mueller actually had one student leave the college to pursue welding training at a technical school. Many others make welding and metal fabrication a big part of their art work, and some go on to work in sculpture studios as assistants where they fabricate large-scale sculptures.
Mueller says his advice to his students is to keep their hands in the process, and they will always find opportunities in metal fabrication.