Testing Their Metal

When fine-art teacher Mary Beth Matthews walked into the welding shops at Max Hayes Vocational School four years ago, she looked at the dusty, dimly lit interior and saw a paradise for sculptors.

Since then, Matthews has taught her students there is more to what they do than trade alone. The materials they weld can have both practical and aesthetic purposes.

Not being a sculptor herself, Matthews sought a grant from the Initiative for Cultural Art in Education, a local organization dedicated to promoting the arts in area schools. Through it, Max Hayes established a partnership with the Cleveland Institute of Art.

Originally, the goal was to create a public sculpture garden across the street from Max Hayes. When this idea fell through, Matthews discovered the Cleveland Area Soap Box Derby Association was seeking someone to build a new entranceway to its track, located near West 49th Street.

Enter CIA graduate Steven Tatar. Not only is he responsible for the design of the Soapbox Derby gateway, but he has also spent countless hours working with the students to show them there is more than one way to solve a puzzle. "This project is really challenging them and stretching their minds," he says.

Just like a piece of abstract art, the project's big picture initially confounded the teens. Normally, the students are given a model, such as a car, and told to replicate it. But with this project, the students only have blueprints. They have to learn how to build something without knowing exactly what it will look like when it's done.

"We're putting forth our best and we can't wait to see the end project," says senior welding student David Keller.

This month, two sandstone pillars will adorn the entryway, with a stainless steel sculpture of a soapbox derby car on top of each pillar, designed to resemble an oversized trophy.

Welding teacher Richard Hart says the program has given students a chance to get out and do something on their own for the community.

"On the inside I'm skipping around like a kid on Christmas," he says. "This is something they can show their grandchildren. They can look at the sculpture in 50 years and say 'I built that.' That's a great feeling."

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