A Future Forged in Iron

image5 Although many students root their Senior Projects in a lifelong interest or skill, some—like Seamus McCarthy—build their projects around a passion cultivated right here on the Ross campus. One day last year, Seamus brought a knife with a broken handle to Visual Arts teacher and shop director Jon Mulhern. What began as a plan to fix the knife soon evolved, with Jon’s guidance, into an after-school project in which the pair fashioned it into an axe using the remains of a broken hammer. This smaller task then inspired Seamus’s Senior Project: crafting his own forge and a full set of blacksmithing hand tools.

Blacksmithing, which is thought to predate the Iron Age, is a slow and methodical art in which heavy iron is heated until malleable and manipulated into new tools and designs. Success at it requires skills cultivated through patience, practice, and the support of a strong mentor.

Jon, who typically assists more than 10 students with Senior Projects every year, serves as Seamus’s mentor and has seen the senior’s dedication pay off. Seamus spent the past summer taking courses in Brooklyn, and he regularly watches videos of other artists shaping tools and spends time refining his process. “Seamus has come to love the process of metalsmithing,” said Jon. “Slowly, he has started to learn to think in metal and see the shaping process in his mind before making strikes with his hammer.”

Among the challenges of Seamus’s project is that because metalsmithing is new to him, mistakes can be costly. “I’m making things I have never made before, like a pair of tongs and a hammer,” he said. “I use videos as my guide, but I have to restart if I overheat a piece or if I hit it while it’s too cold. So forging each piece can take a while.”

Despite the time involved for both student and mentor, the payoff is worth it. “A really good Senior Project can change a student. I love to see that passion develop in my students,” Jon said. “Sometimes in life, there is simply nothing better then hitting a red-hot piece of metal with a hammer and shaping your future.”