Teaching the Next Generation: The Soulsville Metals Collaborative
About the Program
The Soulsville Metals Collaborative (SMC) is a partnership between Knowledge Quest and the Metal Museum for high school students. Knowledge Quest is a community organization that was founded in 1993 to serve youths who live in the 38106 and 38126 area codes. We meet with these students at Gaston Community Center, where they learn basic metalworking skills and business techniques. All students have an initial training period where they learn the core techniques that will be used throughout the program. Once they learn those skills and complete the proficiency test piece, they are then eligible to begin earning an hourly wage and can begin making their own original pieces to be sold during the Sale + Showcase. In addition to designing and making pieces, they also learn how to price and package their items to be sold. All proceeds from the Sale + Showcase go back into the program to help purchase materials and to pay the students an hourly wage for their work!
SMC is completing its fifth year of programming and this semester we had a roster of nine students. Four of them were brand new to the program! Of the five students returning, two are in the second year, and three are in their fourth year (two of whom will be graduating this spring). Over the first few weeks these new students made leaps and bounds in their skills evaluations and began to create their own work. Returning students continued work from the previous semester while being encouraged to create a cohesive body of work for their next showcase.
Each week, the newer students were introduced to a new metalworking technique, including sawing, filing, drilling, texturing, and enameling. This is where they learned the basics and linked these processes together to create their own original pieces. This initial training period is also where students discover which techniques they enjoy the most. Some students love enameling because of its painterly, colorful effects while others flourish making antiqued copper pendants from interesting shapes. Their enthusiasm and affinity for new skills is always a treat. Tyshun, a first year student, made sawing through copper look easy and learned how to rivet more quickly than some college students I know.
Another student, Joshua, started in the middle of Fall 2019. Since then he has shown significant improvement and now creates work independently. In the beginning, Joshua needed constant supervision; he would make mistakes and get very frustrated with himself. Over the course of this semester Joshua learned how to pace himself and found that he excels at enameling. Because Joshua slowed down and stopped overthinking his process, he was able to create some of the most beautiful enameled work in the class. While it used to take Joshua two weeks to finish a piece, now he can create three finished pieces per day.
Our returning students have explored more advanced techniques this year. Cahlia has been creating wearable pieces while Tessa has been experimenting with watercolor enamels on dishes and utilitarian objects. Lawrence has created several riveted layered pendants and the twins Madison and Mardisty have been creating intricately pierced works.
In February, the SMC students were invited to the Museum to tour the grounds and view work by Master Metalsmith Sarah Perkins. They explored the galleries, watched demonstrations in the Smithy and Foundry, and created work by casting pewter. It was a great opportunity for them to see how artists in the Museum Store and galleries use the same techniques that they learn during the program.
Though our time with them this semester was brief, they have improved by leaps and bounds. Their dedication and enthusiasm for making never ceases to amaze me. I look forward to seeing them again and watching them grow as metalsmiths throughout the program!
The Metal Museum receives support for the SMC from FedEx and the Tennessee Arts Commission, as well as general programming support from ArtsMemphis, the Hyde Family Foundation, and the Windgate Foundation.