Fire Breather

As kids, we are all taught not to play with fire. We were all told that playing with matches is not only dangerous but bad. Firemen made visits to our elementary schools to preach the benefits of escape ladders and smoke detectors. Our little hands are whipped away from the stove before we are able to know that it burns. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not opposing child safety standards; I can only relate how they have affected me. You see, growing up, my biggest fear was of fire.
When I was eighteen, I stepped into the university’s sculpture studio eyes wide with inexperience. All I saw was a plethora of machines designed to hurt me in some way. There were saws with blades as big as my head, guns that spew nails powered by loud, scary compressed air, and all kinds of hazmat chemicals that threatened to eat through my clothing. And even worse, I glimpsed seniors on the loading dock tearing steel barrels to shreds with a plasma cutter. Plasma. Cutter. It looks like some sort of sci-fi weapon that hisses as it shoots lightning through steel and spews sparks from its nozzle like the foam of a rabid animal. I was terrified… and fascinated.
Everything I had been taught in the eighteen years leading up to that moment told me not to touch these tools. They’re dangerous! Yet my instructor told me to use these tools as a means to an end, and to do so without instruction. The only advice I was given was to “just mess around till you make something cool. Oh, try to keep all your fingers too.” That’s quite a task for a teenage girl who had only once constructed a birdhouse from popsicle sticks.
As I bent over the bandsaw, I could hear my father’s voice over the flying sawdust, “Don’t go near the power tools! Keep your hands away!” I wish he could have seen me assemble my joinery so precisely that it held together without glue. I wish he could have watched me tack my first weld. Or forge my first steel braid. These days, I’m the senior on the loading dock teaching underclassmen how to adjust the settings on the plasma cutter.  I’m the girl giving fiberglassing demonstrations to the 3D design classes. I’m slicing through marble with a diamond blade angle grinder. Next semester I’ll be the Teacher’s Assistant for Glassblowing 1. And somehow I’m still the only person who can fix that damn jigsaw.

Photos by Jess Schimpf


De Campo said...

Great post! I loved the pictures.

If it isn't too much trouble, I would like to request a post dedicated to "When Freshmen and Plasma Cutters Go Bad".