Inspired by Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford University where he shared how auditing a calligraphy class in college inspired him years later to add diverse fonts to Apple computers, we set out to visit classes around campus that make us think differently about what it means to be educated. This is one in a series of drop-ins.
On the outskirts of campus, the sounds of sawing, hammering and sanding can be heard coming from a studio few students pass on their regular route to class.
Inside the studio, a professor lights a blowtorch, sets the fire on a ring of copper and then quickly douses the ring in water to cool. He’s showing his students how to solder together a bezel setting for a gemstone.
The professor, Jesse Brody, teaches an introductory small metals and jewelry fabrication class in the College of Architecture + The Arts that focuses on the fundamentals of art and design. Students from all majors are welcome to enroll.
“Small metal fabrication is sort of ground zero, to me, for every design department,” Brody said, adding that the skills learned in this class can be applied to any scale of design, from two-inch-tall sculptures to multi-story buildings. “You learn everything from critical thinking to mechanisms to how metal works to how you shape things and how you use the crystalline structure.”
In the class, students work with metals like copper, silver and steel to create anything from fabricated helmets to small sculptures and jewelry pieces.
Sophomore fine arts major Katrina Grosskopf is currently working on a small, copper sculpture of a lotus flower. Grosskopf feels the class has helped her expand her creativity by encouraging her to use new tools to work with metal, a medium she had never before used in her art.
“We’ve learned about how to saw through metal, which was an interesting one. We’ve learned a lot about different tools. We learned about soldering—using a blowtorch, which I’ve never done before,” Grosskopf said.
“It requires thinking differently, and it definitely gives me more of an appreciation for anything I’ve seen that’s metal. It helped me realize just how beautiful of a medium it is,” she added. “It’s not as simple as it looks, but it’s fun.”
On a workbench outside the shop, senior Gabriel Suarez hammers copper rivets into a slab of wood, forming the rough outline of a face. He intends to create a stippled wood effect in the shape of Christian Bale’s face in the movie “American Psycho.”
Suarez, a fine arts major, finds his inspiration in popular culture. By creating images people recognize from the media, he hopes to inspire them to look past the face value of his art and think deeper about its underlying meaning.
“[This class] reshaped everything I’m doing with my art,” Suarez said. “Working in metals has really changed the way I perceive working in other materials like plaster and wood.”
This is Suarez’s second time in Brody’s class—he liked it so much he came back for more—so Brody lets Suarez work mostly on his own to deeper explore his creativity with metals.
“Taking this class really did change a lot of my conceptual thinking and just made it easier for me to put myself into my art,” Suarez said. “Having a helpful teacher and being able to do what I want at this point is very constructive for me.”
Teaching this class is special to Brody, who was inspired to become an art major and pursue a master’s degree in industrial design when he took a similar class in college. Now he works as a furniture designer and owns CA Modern Home, a furniture store in Miami Beach.
“This was the class that started my whole career off when I was at the University of South Carolina. It changed my life,” Brody said. “I really felt like it was instrumental in the development in my career and everything I’ve accomplished.”
Though the university provides the larger power tools necessary for projects, students build their own collection of hand tools and materials for the class, so they leave at the end of the semester prepared to continue metal crafting on their own.
“Every designer, every artist should take a class like this where they are hands-on,” Brody said. “For a lot of famous artists throughout the millennia, they were drawn to the zen idea of just working and doing. It has everything. It’s psychological healing. It’s informative. There’s a lot of benefits to it.”