Skill-Builds Galore

Matthew Witten Museum

Forging iron in the Reinhart Blacksmithing Arts Center

Since January, about two dozen adventurous students from three local high schools – Vergennes, Middlebury, and Mt. Abraham – have set aside time in their schedules to come out to the Maritime Museum where they navigated through the snow and into our shops to take part in several different Skill-Build and boat-building projects.

“Skill-Builds” are intensive, apprenticeship-style courses that the Maritime Museum has begun offering to students from local high schools. The idea of Skill-Builds is that students gain experience under the tutelage of professionals and also have the chance to personalize their learning through independent projects or learning tracks of their choosing.

Soldering copper sheet into a candle holder

Despite wintry temperatures, students have been hard at work braving the Blacksmith Shop, which warms slowly even with five forges going. LCMM educators Kris Jarrett and Len Ruth provide expert guidance as students from Middlebury and Vergennes work over coal-fired forges to heat iron stock to red-hot and then bend it and twist it using hammers, tongs, and anvils. In the sheet metal shop (also lightly heated!) students have learned how to roll, bend, cut, shape, and solder sheet copper to make candle holders and other items of their own creation.

Packing sand molds for bronze casting

Meanwhile, LCMM volunteer and craftsman Richard Butz has engaged students in molding and casting bronze. The bronze foundry itself is in the open air, and the heated boat shop is a perfect setting to tamp their molds and work on finishing cast pieces.

The boat shop has been full of other activity as well. One student from Vergennes has been in deep concentration with LCMM master boatbuilder Charlie Beyer on lofting a scale model of a pilot gig, a process involving geometry and drawing blue-print-style plans. At the same time, another Vergennes student is working under the tutelage of LCMM volunteer Ron Ulmer on the lathe, chips flying, turning seat posts that will hold up the center of the seats on the pilot gig that is being built. A third Vergennes student in the Boatbuilding Skill-Build has worked with LCMM volunteer Don Dewees on shaping the mast for our whale boat.

Turning pilot gig parts in the boatshop

The centerpiece of the boat shop is the new, 32-foot pilot gig that is taking shape. Middlebury High School students are working every day on the pilot gig that is to be launched in May; they also help us with essential maintenance on other rowing vessels in the LCMM fleet. Champlain Longboats Program Director Nick Patch makes sure everyone has a suitable and useful task. All this activity has made for a very full and cacophonous boat shop – we love it!

While all this is going on at the Museum campus, students from Vergennes and Middlebury who are enrolled in LCMM’s Watershed Science Apprenticeship Skill-Build have been on outings including: a field trip to the University of Vermont to learn about “snow science” with Geography Professor Beverly Wemple; a session at the Vermont DEC’s bioassessment lab counting and sorting macroinvertebrates sampled from rivers and streams; and an ice-fishing clinic here in LCMM’s North Harbor with Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department’s Cory Hart. Upcoming sessions will feature a visit to water treatment facility and a practicum in forestry management with an eye toward protecting water quality.

We are deeply grateful to our volunteers and guest instructors who share their experience, time and array of skills with these up-and-coming youth!