Sparking Imagination!

There’s something to be said for sitting in a dirty shop after a project has been completed.  No dread of the time and effort it will take to clean and put things in order, just a simple satisfaction that the job is complete, and a strange urgency to catalog and store in your brain, the memories of what played out during the last hours and days. 

We were joined by two fantastic couples who signed up for our “Wine & Welding” class.  Of all the classes we could have offered for our “first” class, Wine & Welding, in retrospect, was the educational equivalent to filling that second plate at Thanksgiving Dinner, knowing full well that you barely finished the first.  We were kind of locked in and committed to that specific class though.  Two years ago, when we decided to pursue this crazy adventure of The Sunrise Workshop, it was sparked by an article in the Onion, a satirical newspaper.  The article was about a new “sip & weld studio” opening that would “let you drink wine and create your masterpiece with a blowtorch”.  That’s the moment when we knew what we wanted to do and a Wine & Welding Class” seemed like the proper thing to pay homage to the article that sparked our imagination.  Before you let your imagination run away… there was no wine consumed while working… that would come later.

The class started much the same way our “practice” classes started – Running around like a chicken without a head, trying to finish preparing for our guests.  Our main instructor, Anthony King, showed up the night before and didn’t hesitate to jump in and help us get ready.  We worked late into the night and called it quits just before midnight, resolved to get up early to handle last minute details.

Right on time, our students arrived, and introductions were given.  Safety was covered along with administrative details, and before we knew it, Anthony was in his zone explaining the basics of welding. After descriptions of the types of welding, Anthony gave a demonstration of each.  This is where I observed something fantastic.  Anthony is a professionally trained welder, his knowledge of metal working dwarf my own, but he’s never instructed before.  I chose him because I’ve known him for most of his life and I remembered when he ran me through some basics when I purchased my gas driven Hobart welder. He took his time to explain things but didn’t overwhelm me with information I didn’t need.  His instruction was a pleasant surprise as I watched him interact.  The students were glued to his every word, and as he spoke, they seemed to soak up whatever he gave them.  They watched intently during his demonstrations.  His patient demeanor and attention to detail was proving him to be a very capable instructor!

We planned to give the students a little time to practice before beginning work on their Wine Caddy projects.  Anthony, Katie, and I moved from student to student offering advice and encouragement as they laid down their first beads.  The practice material was two small steel plates just a few inches across.  As they joined the plates together, I saw every inch of available space fill up with welds.  I learned something fun at this point.  I walked over to the scrap bin and grabbed fist-fulls of material – round stock, square tubing, pipe – anything I could grab.  As I walked past each students welding station, I tossed the pieces onto the table and kept walking.  I didn’t say a word… I didn’t have to.  No rules, no design, no limitations, just imagination and the will to create.  Each of them immediately grabbed for the scrap and started welding their own little sculpture, learning what works and what doesn’t.  As we broke for lunch, they were all looking over what the others had made.  Smiles.  I saw smiles.

After lunch we got down to business, creating subassemblies for their project.  Anthony explained the work to be done, gave a quick demonstration, and they were off!  By the end of the day things were starting to take shape, and the quality of the work was too.  A quick clean up of the shop, and we all filtered into the lodge for some much-needed relaxation.  Katie had prepared the dining room for a wine tasting put on by our friends at North Folk Winery in Harris, Minnesota. We highly recommend a visit to enjoy some top-notch wine and food that warms the soul.  Katie’s thoughtful decorations in the lodge were a welcome change from the workshop, and everyone settled in quickly for the evening.

As we sat around the candle lit table, Patti from North Folk, uncorked several bottles and served our guests as we nibbled on cheese and crackers.  The raspberry was a crowd pleaser.  I enjoyed a glass, but I don’t have the skills to give a review that would do it justice. I’ll just say that it left me wanting more.  Conversations of wine and of welding intermixed as they discussed the memories of their time in the workshop.  Strangers sat talking like old friends.  As the meat and cheese tray emptied, a bottle or two of wine were purchased for taking home.  Before the end of the evening, I went out to the shop and retrieved the wood that would become their charcuterie boards to top the caddy.  I gave them pencils and asked them to define the shape of their boards.  Some art ideas are better after a glass of wine to spark the imagination. With the boards collected, we said our goodbyes as the evening ended.  I didn’t quite retire for the evening… I fired up the scroll saw and followed the lines imprinted on the red cedar planks.  A knife groove added, and the appropriate edge profile routed, I handed off the boards to Katie and Anthony to give them a good finish sanding.  I don’t remember what time I laid my head down on the pillow, but it was the longest, most restful sleep I’ve had in a while. 

The next day, class kicked off with a short safety brief, and everyone got geared up and ready to go.  The excitement was visible as the students added part after part… projects were starting to take shape.  This group had no problem understanding the idea that they could artistically customize their own caddy.  The projects were all similar, but each unique to the artist that made them.  All beautiful in form and function.  Each of them had employed the methods Anthony taught them to create something that no one else had ever made.  As each one completed their project and added the charcuterie board, they spent long moments appreciating at what others had done and receiving admiration from others as well. 

We took the short walk out to the signpost for a photograph.  Just about the time everyone was about to head to their vehicles for the trip home, I realized there was one more step that needed to be taken – We had to break out the branding iron and add The Sunrise Workshop logo to the back of the charcuterie boards!  With the logo adorning the back side of the board, hugs and handshakes were exchanged and our “first students” drove off into the afternoon sun.

Looking back, I feel a sense of accomplishment for sure, but more so, a real appreciation for the trust placed in us, and a deep feeling of utter privilege.  We are fortunate to have this opportunity to share our love of teaching new skills, and for a chance to enrich the lives of others. 

Until next time,

Try something new! And know that part of you can better someone else when you take the time to share. And don’t forget to visit North Folk Winery!