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Let's Talk Shop: Metals Education

By Robert Fairchild, Arts Intern in Marketing

Teaching the public about fine metal art is an important part of the Metal Museum’s mission. Lori Gipson, our Education & Community Engagement manager, is responsible for orchestrating our metals education programs. Her BFA and MFA in metalsmithing provide her with first-hand knowledge and experience in the field. She applies her knowledge of metalsmithing to crafting the curriculum for classes, workshops, tours, and programming.

Community engagement is important to Lori and to the rest of the Metal Museum staff. Education programs such as the Soulsville Metal Collaborative (SMC) work with schools to teach students art making skills. Knowledge Quest, our community partner, contributed to the first SMC program and it developed into an annual experience for students in the Memphis area. Business, marketing, and mathematics skills are developed during the semester-long program, giving high school students a new perspective on the possibilities of an art career. Lori later developed Cu in Summer based on the success of SMC. During Cu in Summer, students learn new metalsmithing skills every week, and at the end of the summer program the Museum hosts a professional gallery exhibition in the Library. Students in the programs leave with an appreciation of every step of the process!

In order to advance the art and craft of fine metalwork, the Metal Museum works hard to introduce metalworking to the next generation. Our Youth Makers Guild provides classes that challenge children’s creative thinking skills while educating them about metalsmithing. Classes introduce new techniques with artwork in our Permanent Collection to make connections for students. Lori developed these classes to engage children who could not participate in the more advanced classes offered at the Museum. These classes are also designed to teach metalworking techniques with tools and materials appropriate for each age group (3 to 6, 7 to 10, and 11 to 13 years old).

Providing an educational experience for the region extends well beyond the Metal Museum campus. Public events give the Museum the opportunity to break out the Mini Mobile Metal Museum (or the M4, for short). This custom-built trailer comes with a coal forge and anvil that makes blacksmithing demonstrations possible almost anywhere! Foundry pours are also an option thanks to the small furnace the trailer equipped with. It’s available for private rental, so schools and businesses can get in on the metalworking fun. The Pink Palace Museum, Memphis Rox, and United Way of the Mid-South are just a few of the locations the M4 has been to within the last year. Hands-on activities, such as pewter castings and copper bracelets, go along with most M4 pop-ups as well. The M4 is a great way for the public to not only see metalsmithing, but also have their own hands-on experience with the craft.

Tours are another great way to have an in-depth learning experience at the Museum. There are a few different options to choose from. Guided tours give large groups of visitors information about our exhibitions, Permanent Collection, shop, and grounds. Our shop can also provide demonstrations in blacksmithing and casting for groups. All ages are welcome, and schools often come to the Metal Museum for field trips. Memphis school field trips are responsible for over half of our tours! 18 and 24 Karat tours are meant for groups of three to ten people. Visitors receive a general overview of the Museum and its history, and the tour is accompanied with a hands-on activity such as copper cuffs or cast art tiles.

In recent years, the Metal Museum has worked in collaboration with RiverArtsFest for an ongoing program. Their Art in the Making program provides master classes for visual artists. The Museum offers an Art Tile Workshop for 3-D Advanced Placement Art students from local high schools as part of this program! Last year, there were 94 students from four high schools that attended the workshop. Each student carved a tile and left with a cast aluminum tile for their portfolio. Tile workshops happen onsite and offsite as well. Overton High School, Delta School in Wilson, Arkansas, and various Shelby County Schools have experienced one our workshops on location.

The goal of our metals education programs is to provide opportunities for artists to grow and learn. Showing students what is possible in metalsmithing while working on their strengths and weakness teaches them how to think critically and work independently. The most rewarding part of Lori’s job is watching students improve their skills and develop a passion for the craft. In just one example, our first student to graduate from the four-year SMC program applied and was accepted into a collegiate metalsmithing program! Lori’s passion for metalsmithing has helped the Museum offer a myriad of programs for all ages, interests, and aptitudes. Whether it is through SMC, Cu in Summer, the Youth Makers Guild, tours, demonstrations, or one of our many other initiatives, the Metal Museum is committed to providing metals education for all.


Robert Fairchild is the Summer 2019 Arts Intern in Marketing at the Metal Museum. Fairchild is a senior at the University of Memphis, studying Studio Arts and Creative Mass Media. The Arts Intern program, which offers paid internships in the arts to undergraduate students in financial need, is one of many arts programs run by the Studio Institute.

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