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Welderhostel

Introduction

My Mother was here on my 55th birthday.  She didnít really come just for that, as it was also near my sonís birthday and High School graduation.  After we served the cake she turned to me and said, ďYou know youíre eligible for Elderhostel nowĒ.  Sorta like getting AARPed?  But once I got over that aspect of it I went online and signed up for their catalog.  Iíve been hearing great things about the Elderhostel trips she takes for years.  I was particularly interested in the art/craft learning opportunities.

 

For one reason or another I didnít do more than daydream about it for nearly three years, but this May I went to Snow Farm in Williamsburg , Massachusetts , and took ďWelding for Home and GardenĒ.  Snow Farm is a folk school offering a wide range of Art and Craft classes.  You donít have to book classes through Elderhostel.  The program started Sunday afternoon and ran through Saturday morning.  Included were six nights room, five days of instruction, a reasonable amount of materials and supplies, and all meals.  For a whole $618.

 

Besides being one heck of a bargain (if I donít count the tools I want to buy now), it was about the most exciting week of my life.  Let me tell you more about it.

Room

The rooms were rustic.  Spartan, even.  There were several dorms consisting of about a dozen double rooms and a couple of shared bathrooms.  The hallway was open to the outside on one end and one side.  Each room had two single platform style single beds, a bedside table, a pine bookcase, two strips of wall pegs, a mirror, and an overhead light.  A space heater supplied heat.  Had it been warmer a window supplied air conditioning.  Yes, it was pretty basic, but I didnít spend much time in the room.  If basic conditions and a shared bath are important issues for you could get a commuter rate and stay at any of several nearby motels.

 

Fig01:  The view from the door of my room.  You can see the as yet unmade beds, the bedside table with a lamp I brought, and the window.  You canít see the bookcase,  space heater, mirror, and peg strips.

 

Fig02:  The view from the door of the bathroom.  You can see a tiny corner of the counter top and one of three sinks, and the side of one of two dressing booth/shower combinations.

 

Fig03:  The outside of E dorm from the front end.

Board

Meals were served cafeteria style and seating was at several rows of long tables.  But the menu and food preparation were anything but cafeteria style.  For instance, Fridayís dinner was ďLime marinated chicken with dirty yellow rice, refried black beans, smoky mango salsa and a tropical fruit tartĒ.  There was an impressive salad bar at every lunch and dinner with a huge variety of add-ons to select from.  Typically (and leaving at least half of the items out) there were two kinds of lettuce, tofu squares, sunflower seeds, radishes, spiral cut carrots, spiral cut beets, bean sprouts, three kinds of shredded cheese, several marinated beans, mushrooms and four dressings to choose from.  I was quite intrigued by the spiral cut beets and carrots.  Took me a while to identify what the spiral cut golden beets were.  I asked the chef about them.  He told me they cut raw, not even blanched, and showed me the cool (and expensive, sadly) gadget he used to make them.  At every meal there were coffee and decaf, several teas, a couple of juices, etc.  Really, it was even better than it sounds, sort of like trying to adequately trying to describe Cirque du Soliel to someone that hasnít seen it.  Perhaps it would be more telling to mention that at dinner on Friday the chef got a rather long and loud standing ovation.

 

Breakfast was from 8:00 to 8:45.  Lunch was from 12:15 to 1:00.  Dinner was from 6:15 to 7:00.  Coffee and Tea and maybe something to nibble on were always available.

Fig04:  The cafeteria.  Parts of two of the three rows of tables are visible.  The counter on the left is where the cold cereal, bread, yogurt and toaster were at breakfast, the salad bar and bread were at lunch and dinner, and beverages were at all meals.  The hot food was served through the opening to the kitchen visible at the right.  I should have had someone in the Photoshop class try to remove the strange reflection above the woman in the center instead of trying to do it myself.

 

Fig05:  The weekís menu.  I didnít have a tripod so I had to use flash which obscured some of the menu by bouncing off the lamination.

 

 

Ambiance

Grounds

Snow Farm is located on a pretty site of rolling hills in western Massachusetts .  It has lots of trees, a pond, and rock fences.  In spring, at least, itís very green.

Fig06:  This shows the patio outside the Cafeteria/Commons building.  You can also see some of the covered porch.

 

 

Fig07:  The Cafeteria/Commons from the back.  The top row of windows are for the Cafeteria, the bottom row for the classrooms underneath.

 

Fig08:  The front side of the Cafeteria/Commons taken through a woven archway that was located in the grassy area between the dorms.

People

There is a tendency among attendees to dive into your studio and not come up.  But you gotta eat, and you might as well talk while you do.  If you work among people who read Cosmo and watch American Idol, you might find it an energizing surprise to be surrounded by so many people driven to create things.

 

In Welding, my specific program, the six students got along really well.  Everyone shared equipment gracefully, and helped each other out when another hand was needed.  The help was more than extra hands; it was like having extra brains as well, as we fed off each other creatively.  Thereís no guarantee every class is like that, but I suspect they mostly are.

Evening Programs

There was an evening program most days of the week.  On Monday there was a studio walk through.  We toured each active studio in turn, and someone from that class talked about what and how they were doing and showed samples of their work.  It was fun to see the different media, as well as great advertising for future programs (Iím sure I could go back yearly until I die).

 

On Tuesday evening we had a guest lecturer, a woodcarving artist.  She brought in a few examples and showed slides of a lot more.

 

Wednesday there was no program.  On Thursday they showed a movie.  With popcorn.

 

Friday everyone brought their weeks work to display.  After everyone had a good look at everything there was an auction of donated items, with the proceeds going to benefit Snow Farm.  Both instructors and students donated work, and some studios contributed a group project.  I bought a fused glass pin and a watercolor.  To my delight my wife liked both.

Instruction

The classes offered the week I was there were Welding, Wood Carving, Fused Glass, Glass Blowing, Painted Furniture, Watercolor, and Beginning Photoshop.  Class sizes were small, I donít think anyone had more than nine.  Many different subjects are offered throughout the season.  Have a look at the Snow Farm web site for the list.

Physical Plant

The physical classrooms are, well, variable but always adequate.  Snow Farm is a combination of rehabbed farm buildings, and purpose built buildings.  Some of the equipment was purchased, some donated.  The Photoshop class was in a new building and featured an iMac for each student and some impressive looking printers.  Welding was in a barn, but featured a MIG welder for each student.  The plasma cutter (which was ever so much fun to use) was shared and the necessary air compressor was a bit small for the task.

Schedule

Formal instruction ran from 9:00 to 12:00 each morning, and 2:00 to 4:30 every afternoon but Wednesday.  Safe studios, such as painting were open 24 hours for additional work.  The welding studio was available; except for the acetylene torches, as long as at least two people were there. 

Welding Particulars

Pat Bennet  was our welding instructor.  We all thought she did a great job.  Pat showed us the basics of MIG welding and the Plasma cutter and then let us get to work.  She  showed us how to work with additional equipment in digestible chunks through out the week.  She was always watching what we were doing and made suggestions for improvement both in technique and design in a diplomatic fashion.  Pat spent quite a bit of extra time with us.

 

Fig09:  Our instructor, Pat Bennet.

 

The welding students were evenly split with regards to gender.  Four of us were Elderhostel age, two were younger.

 

For primary equipment we had 6 MIG welders, two acetylene torches, one plasma cutter, and a stick arc welder.  Each MIG welder was next to a welding table with a vise and with an automatic darkening welding helmet.  There were also a couple of vises with bending jigs on a long bench outside the barn.  There was a roller bending machine and two abrasive chop saws.  We had handfuls of various clamps and angle grinders.  Steel was available in sheet, rod, and tube form as well as some found objects.

 

Fig10:  The welding barn.  The watercolor class was held in the back of this building.

 

Fig11:  The welding shop from the door.  The oxy-acetylene table is on the left.  The torch cutting table is center foreground, the plasma cutter and table is center background.  One of the abrasive chop saws, in the middle of extension tables, is on the right.

 

Fig12:  The welding shop looking to the right inside the door.  The bending roller machine is in the foreground.  In the background you can see some of the MIG welding stations with a work table, helmet, ventilation ducts, and helmets.

 

Iím sure none of us came close to mastering the MIG welder, but it was surprising easy to get serviceable, if sometimes ugly, welds.  You just hold two pieces of steel together somehow, bring the torch tip up close and pull the trigger.  The plasma cutter was a delight to use.  I want one.  You put the object to be cut on a grounding table, bring the cutter up almost touching and pull the trigger, then move the cutter to follow your line.  It cuts with a thin, about 1/16Ē, kerf, with much less slag to clean up later compared to a torch.  You can follow a line drawn with marker or chalk.  It was surprisingly fast.

 

We all had a great time building objects from raw steel, found objects, and combinations of them both.  By coming back from lunch early and staying late on Wednesday and Thursday we all got a surprising amount of work completed.  I came home with a pick-up truck full, and didnít go over my steel allowance.  As this article is mostly description and lists Iím sure I havenít managed to convey how exciting it was.  It was kind of like a week long delicious hypo-manic state.

Gallery

Fig13:  My SeaSaw Monster, made mostly from old circular saw blades.

 

Fig14:  Bethís huge and elaborate Bird Form.  Mostly from found objects except the wings.

 

 

Fig15:  JoAnnís Reeds and Birds.  She will install it in a creek at home.

 

Fig 16:  Johnís Swans.

 

Fig17:  Mikeís Catalytic Bird.

Fig18:  Joanís Trellis.

 

 

Fig19:  A Blown Glass Octopus.

Fig20:  Fused Glass Jewelry and Plate.  The gold is dichroic glass.  The image is protected with a special ink, the background is etched away.

 

 

Fig21:  A Painted Table.

 

Fig22:  Paul, my roommate, made this picture in the Photoshop class.  The monster on the left is the head of a large saw monster I made.  The backgrund pond is at Snow Farm.  The gargoyle at right is from his home garden.

Fig23:  Six Flower watercolors.

 

 

Fig24:  A Woodcarving.

Me

David Reed Smith is a Basement Woodturner and craft dilettante living in Hampstead , Maryland .  He welcomes comments and questions and suggestions via email at David@DavidReedSmith.com.