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Training & Education

Kids take the torch

By Gretchen Salois

Wide-eyed and eager, young students take on welding

January 2012 - Sometimes it takes a bit of persuasion to convince a child that something is worth learning. Looking through photos of a welder at work doesn’t quite have the same affect as seeing it up close. That’s why some schools employ Bob Doster, owner and sculptor for Backstreet Studio, Lancaster, S.C., to demonstrate to students how their drawings can become 3-D works of art.

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Doster uses a plasma cutter to cut materials. He then welds pieces together. Kids are allowed to watch as he instructs them how to hold the torch. “If the kids are too young, I have helmets they can wear and they watch me or my assistant weld,” Doster says. As a visiting artist, Doster travels throughout South Carolina funded by the National Endowments for the Arts, The South Carolina Arts Commission and local school districts or businesses.

“We teach kids in a four-day session with five classes a day,” he says. “They get to see something they drew from a piece of paper constructed into a finished product.” Some projects are more involved than others, taking longer, which are also contingent on budgets. “It really depends,” Doster says, adding he has worked with groups with large budgets and those with limited funds. In many cases, Doster brings scrap metal students can transform into sculptures.

Hands on learning
Doster worked with fourth graders at a local school to construct a fish made out of stainless steel. Doster welded the head, tail and fins and the children made the scales, creating their own little fishes, which were welded to the large sculpture to serve as scales. Brightly colored pieces, such as benches, are a favorite project of choice for Doster when working with younger children.

“Kids draw something out on a piece of paper and cut it out of 18-gauge steel using a plasma cutter, making it a 3-D sculpture,” he says. “They had to pick a point to balance their sculptures so they wouldn’t fall over. They might not be able to do it so I make a tweak to it and their eyes just light up, amazed.” Working with art teachers, kids learn more than simply the cutting pieces. They learn there are methods to making a piece work as well as the value of the materials being used.

traininged-kids012012-lead4“We’ll have a budget for the sculpture we’re building,” he says. “The older kids start realizing you can’t draw something one way because of the resulting scrap, which might cost $200. I’m not just teaching art, I’m teaching life skills: you have a budget, timeline, real-world stuff. The kids get really excited.” Doster recalls an instance where a young boy was trying his best to cut a piece of stainless but “was shaking like a leaf.” However, once finished, his smile spanned from ear to ear, beaming with pride.

“We use materials up to 7 gauge, then [use a] plasma cutter to cut and either stick, MIG or TIG weld—depending on the materials,” he says.

“The kids draw out whatever theme we’ve chosen to do. There’s several pieces of furniture in the middle or elementary school, which the children have designed,” he says. “It’s drawn on to a flat piece of steel, then we cut it out on-site, weld legs on and stand it up. The kids sit on it and see that it’s real—and they helped create it.” Three or four different designs are incorporated together, and the kids’ names are inscribed in the piece itself.

“One kindergarten student designed an entire bench, a whale bench,” Doster says. “While he was too young to cut, we have had first graders stand on stools and cut out their design from the steel. Of course, they had to wear the right protective clothing, but they get a big charge out of it, so excited.”

With the many sculptures becoming a “blur” as Doster continues to venture around the state working with various kids, he’s encouraged by the enthusiasm of the children. They work with stainless steel the majority of the time because there is minimal upkeep compared to other materials that might rust. “I get a kick out of working with these kids,” Doster says. “Most of these kids have seen pictures of sculptures but that doesn’t mean anything to them. And then, here they are doing it—you can tell a child all about something, but it doesn’t really register until they see it for themselves.” Doster’s whimsical creations and monumental public works of art give him the knowledge and experience to spread his passion for art. Having worked with 120,000 students of all ages, Doster continues to introduce the practicality and beauty of fabrication. FFJ

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