Mike Chaddock teaches welding at Southwestern Michigan College’s Niles Campus.
That doesn’t mean he’s a “knuckle-dragging Cro-Magnon,” though they joke about it within his department.
Chaddock is grateful for an opportunity to display the lighter, artistic side of heavy metal.
“My world started in sculpture,” he said Feb. 13 at the reception for Steely Resolve, an exhibit featuring works by students — Dave Edwards of Niles is a blacksmith “for fun” — and faculty involved with the School of Advanced Technology’s welding, mechatronics and electronics programs.
Steely Resolve runs until Feb. 28, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday, in the Art Gallery of the Dale A. Lyons Building on the Dowagiac campus.
This exhibit explores projects combining technical knowledge with artistic creativity.
Sculptural works in wood and metal, architectural drawings, and a newly designed video offer a comprehensive view of uniting personal pursuits with projects from precision machining, welding and fabrication courses.
“I have had such an awesome experience with my students,” Chaddock said. “There are those who are technically adept — wonderful welders who are great at joining pieces of metal — but also those who have vision and want to play with it. Normally it comes about because somebody finds a couple extra grinder wrenches and some weird nuts and bolts lying around. Next thing you know, there’s a sculpture.
“When Shannon came to me with the idea for this show to highlight what’s going on at Niles and to put the spotlight on some of our students, I thought it was awesome. We have so many talented people with great ideas.”
“I’m a sculptor by trade,” co-curator and art instructor Shannon Eakins said. “When I got into town, I needed a community, I needed to find people, so I started taking machining classes. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do because I work in metal a lot. People would say, ‘I’m not an artist,’ but then they would have projects they created with technical knowledge. You hear that, actually, quite a bit, so I thought why not exploit this and show this to get people at the Dowagiac campus aware of the incredible facilities and resources available in Niles?”
“When I met Mike, I realized he was an artist as well,” Eakins said. “Now I’ve got the beginnings of a little community in Niles.”
Machining involves removing metal to make parts using two basic tools, a lathe and a mill.
“A mill carves metal this way. A lathe carves metal sideways,” she said. “The chess board and cannon are great pieces because they show what those machines can do. The program over at Niles has high-tech CNC (Computer Numeric Control), so people write code to get the machine to do all the metal work for them, which is incredibly precise. It’s something you can think of very technically, but it’s also something you can think of as what a Candyland for innovation. I was drooling. What can’t you make with this stuff?”
Edwards, the blacksmith who turns railroad spikes into barbecue tools with his forge at 1,800 to 2,000 degrees, “Got into it because I liked the artwork. I do decorative stuff for fun. I’m not a farrier (a person who shoes horses). I saw a blacksmith at one of the local fairs in Elkhart County, then my wife saw an article in the newspaper for the St. Joe Valley club. I started going 12 years ago. I work in a plastics factory as a robotics operator. Blacksmithing (forging and shaping iron with a hammer and anvil) led me to welding, which ultimately got me the job I have right now. Some people in our group market their pieces, but I don’t. I helped a friend in Cassopolis make a mural for a gentleman building a house. We made a circle gate with the Chinese yin yang for a competition at the yearly conference in Tipton, Ind. There are more artistic blacksmiths out there than you would think.”
Edwards, whose table contains a black snowflake, added, “Welding lends itself to art. My shop is usually down in the winter because it has a roof over it, but no walls, but I have a friend’s shop in a 25-foot by 40-foot pole building I can use. If you get two to three forges going, there’s so much heat we have to open the doors to keep cool.”