Sparks fly and smoke rises as the torch of a CNC plasma cutter passes over a large sheet of steel. The cutter, which moves at a rate of 155 inches per minute and is hot enough to melt 1/8-inch thick metal, quickly reveals a shape — in this case, a football, stitches and all.
David Blackstone ’22, a computer science major from Clear Brook, Virginia, is operating the plasma cutter as it cuts its path — a path he created with design software and then uploaded to the machine’s computer.
Eventually, the flat metal football will be part of an 80-foot-long mural to be installed this summer along downtown Lynchburg’s Fifth Street. The public art project, which celebrates people from the city’s past and present, is part of a new collaboration between the University of Lynchburg and Vector Space, a local nonprofit makerspace and community workshop.
This spring, students in Chelsea Tinklenberg’s 3-D Forms and Space II class have been meeting at Vector Space, which is located on Fifth Street, not far from the future site of the mural. There, they’ve learned to use design software and welding and metalworking tools, and they’re using those new skills to help create the mural.
The mural, which has sculptural and painted elements, is made possible by grants that Vector Space received from Black & Decker, the Downtown Lynchburg Association, and the Fifth Street Development Corporation. Local painter, muralist, and art teacher Christina Davis also is lending her talent to the project.
“I think it’s a great idea and I’m excited to be able to participate in such a nice thing for the community,” said Jose Vertiz ’22, a management major from Greensboro, North Carolina. “I can’t wait to come back in the future and ride past it and think to myself that I contributed to that mural, which is amazing.”
Lynchburg’s partnership with Vector Space and the opportunity to work on the mural came out of the University’s Center for Innovation and Strategic Partnerships, more specifically its Innovation Collaborative, or IC.
The idea was two-fold: Lynchburg’s students would have access to metalworking and welding equipment not available on campus and it also would create an opportunity for students to collaborate with a local business on a meaningful piece of public art.
Tinklenberg, who has been making art at Vector Space for the past two years, first envisioned the partnership.
“The class is advanced sculpture, with a focus on fabrication materials,” she said. “My background is in sculpture, but we don’t have all the tools here. The class already existed, but the IC has helped facilitate this collaboration to be able to use the tools at Vector Space.”
Tinklenberg added the goal of the IC is to “create collaborative, innovative opportunities. … A lot of things came together to make it happen. How do we collaborate with this cool company off campus? Can we bring welding to campus? Let’s do it together.”
Chase Petri ’23, a business administration major from Chesterfield, Virginia, said he’s learned a lot of new skills this semester. “I took this class because I heard it was mostly welding, and welding is something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “I’ve learned to weld, plasma cut, grind metal … and [use] a bunch of different [kinds of] equipment.
“I feel like I will be able to use those skills later down the road for house … projects or maybe even job purposes.”
Classmate Arran Walton ’23 agrees. “I chose to take this class because it sounded like an interesting change from other art classes offered, and included learning skills with materials and tools that I would not otherwise be exposed to at school,” said Walton, a Westover Honors Fellow from Wilson, North Carolina.
As a business administration major with minors in management, marketing, and studio art, Walton said he “doesn’t have plans to go into welding and metalwork professionally after graduation” but he does plan to keep creating art.
“This class has introduced me to new methods and materials,” he said, “so I do think I will incorporate metal into the art I do for classes at Lynchburg, as well as in the future.”