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sara thompson

Advice, thoughts and regrets from some members of the class of 2013, after a year away.

From left, Jacob Lawrence, Isabella Bennett, Erin Sullivan and Sarah Thompson — Photo by Michael Cummo

After 18 has been following the lives of four 2013 graduates as they made their way for the year after school — in college, developing a video game, traveling. This collection features the last dispatches from Jacob Lawrence, Sara Thompson, Erin Sullivan, and Bella Bennett. Next month, we’ll introduce the next After 18 group.

So, Summer is Finally Here!

By Jacob Lawrence

I’ve done it. I walked into my first year of college, independence and freedom and made it out the other side and best of all I did it all on my own! Okay, maybe not all on my own: there were the two or three calls home for some advice on living alone including how to properly do laundry. Also, thanks to my discovery of the amazing invention that is delivery food, there were about 15-20 calls home for money. But besides that it was all on my own.

Jacob Lawrence
Jacob Lawrence

Growing up, one of the most common things I had ever heard about college was that it’s where you “find yourself.” When I was young, the naïve me heard this and thought “but I’m not lost. How can you find yourself?” When I finally was old enough to understand what it meant I still didn’t pay it much mind. I was in high school and thought that I had already found who I was inside and out and I was comfortable and secure enough (as secure as a teenager with acne could be) to be happy with who I was. It has been a full year since I first set foot on campus during orientation; and as I think back to whom that Jacob was, the musician, student, and athlete who thought that he was already on top of the world, and compare him to the one who just finished school this year, I see two completely different people on two completely different paths.

As I think back to all the good times I have had over the last 10 months, I can really see how most of them, even the bad ones, have changed me and taught me important lessons that I can use to improve my life. For example life lesson #1: learn to budget your money. Take it from someone who is lucky enough to have the #1 ranked food service in the country, you will get sick of the food in your dining hall; not to mention there’s always a trip or a concert coming soon and if you call home to mom once every three days asking for money, she will eventually tell you “no.” So make sure that when those times come you’re financially prepared. Lesson #2 is that college is one of the only times where you are not only exposed to an infinite number of opportunities, but you can take advantage of them at your leisure. So in my opinion, you should join all the clubs and take all the trips you can to find what you really like. I personally found happiness in my fraternity. From youth groups to community service to sports teams I have always wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself, so a fraternity to me seemed like the best thing for me and I couldn’t be happier with my decision to join one. I love my fraternity brothers and I would do anything for them.

So here I am, sitting at home on one of my rare days off from work and there are two things on my mind. The first is that working three jobs this summer is the worst idea by far that I have ever had in my life. And the second is all the awesome things that I have set up both socially and academically for myself this coming year. I have set my schedule with fun and engaging classes including a public speaking class which I’m super excited for, not to mention that I’m done with class at noon on Fridays!

In addition to excitement about my classes (which my mother and father will be happy to read about) I’m also planning snowboarding trips for the winter and my fraternity is planning a trip to Canada in the spring. I can say that without a doubt my freshman year was the best year of my life so far. But I think sophomore year and every year after this will be even better.

(Past dispatches here.)

Still 17

By Sara Thompson

(written in late June.)

Sarah Thompson
Sarah Thompson

I’ve been back on the Island for one month. I still don’t know what day it is. Nor did I really know in Portland. Though, in Portland it was wake up and go to class at 8 am, four days a week and then slave away in the studios for the next three and repeat. With self-discipline, I pulled off my overly ambitious projects while wandering Portland every now and then seeking a new coffee shop to spend hours in, reading about science of course.

On Island, my concept of the day is far worse. I know what day it is when my alarm goes off at 7:20 in the morning on Sundays. Sundays I show my work at the Vineyard Artisans Festivals. Starting in July, I’ll know what day it is twice because I’ll start showing my work on Thursdays.

Being back at the Vineyard Artisans Festivals and seeing everyone bright and ready to start the season is calming and refreshing. Dozens of warm, friendly artists came over to me to ask of my artistic adventure 3,000 miles away and especially to see my new pieces of jewelry from the new techniques I’ve learned while I was away.

The truth is that I only made two pieces of jewelry while I was away at Oregon College of Art and Craft. I had no new work at the Memorial Day shows. Modestly, I shared with the other artists that I’ve taken a big step in my metal career as I’ve begun to branch out into the world of sculptures. Some readers who have followed my writings I imagine are thinking, of course you make sculptures! On the other hand, the busy weeks of the festivals, I’m cranking out 15-50 pieces of one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry pieces. It’s a completely different change of pace. The new direction I am taking has caused me to reflect deeply on it, especially when I wrote the articles for this paper. The opportunity the MV Times has given me is extraordinary. This opportunity to write for After 18 (I’m still 17…) has allowed me to share with readers not just: “Oh, I go to art school.” Rather, “Here, I want to share with you my process: what I create, how I create it, and why I create my pieces.” My sculptures, in particular, are pieces that come from deep within me and resonate closely with me. They are both part of my artistic and intellectual nature that drives me to create and to learn about the universe around us. My sculptures have allowed me to marry those two natures to share with others to interact with them so that they appreciate my craft, but also learn something new. Writing these articles has allowed me to bring viewers along of the process, and hopefully, learn many new things or a different perspective.

For the summer, I am taking a break from my sculptures and fully throwing myself into my jewelry work. I missed making jewelry. I missed painting with molten glass enamel and creating hundreds of settings. My wrists may disagree, but it’s good to be settling back in. Arriving on Island, I wasn’t quite ready to start designing; I strongly believe that you cannot force creativity. I wasn’t ready. My summer project was to build a website. However, at my first Artisans festival this season, I was approached about wholesale orders.

Wholesale. Oh boy. More on that later.

Needless to say, I avoided jewelry and slaved on my website, sara-thompson-metalsmith.com.

I made something that’s not made out of metal. My website allows me to share with viewers both branches of my work — jewelry and sculptures — and have a shop built into the site. Viewers can learn about my enameling technique and handcrafted jewelry while seeing what drives my sculptures and how I made each one.

One part of the site that is being updated is my series section. A year ago I started a Black and White series. In this series, I am exploring the power of contrast. How does different amounts of black and white with the safety of grays affect the overall feeling of the piece. I enjoy this series the most, in addition to that I wear mostly black and white and that it is my best seller — some pieces sell off my neck!

Fast forwarding to this week, I finally felt creative, very creative, 18 hours straight of creativity (with only two cups of coffee, mind you.) After feeling not my greatest, I forced myself into my studio only emerging to get more mapp gas (gas for my enameling torch.) I ran out of mapp gas, twice. Within this creative Monday, I started two dozen pieces. My wrists were and are not happy. Tuesday followed with an overly productive day as I finished the last solderings on the settings, set the enameled pieces, and began the polishing process. It was only a 12-hour productive day.

My two new series are enameled-focused. Enamel is a kind of powdered glass that is fired to create a glossy surface of glass. I have nearly 200 colors, but I mostly use two dozen. Traditionally enameling is done in a kiln; however, I torch-fire mine. Torch-firing allows more variables to affect the glass. I enjoy torch-firing because I can then paint with the glass while it’s molten to create truly unique pieces. One new series, titled Growth, ecompasses single bright colors against a white background. The colors are swirling up from the bottom as if they’re growing vines.

My other series from the concerning overly productive Monday was a result of working with the enamel in a new way. I think I might glass this series Glass Pulling, though I’m not sure yet. I was literally pulling the glass. I began to ball up the enamel while it was molten and work with gravity to pull the enameling as if it were mozzarella cheese. This results in creating thin thread-like glass enamel that I then place onto the main enamel piece. It’s a difficult but is enticing me to trying glass blowing as soon as I can. (I wrote a research paper on the thermodynamics and molecular physics of glass blowing. I’m not sure if other art students loved it as much as I did.)

The last three days I have pushed out two dozen new pieces and it’s not even fourth of July yet, nut that will be the rest of my summer- happily creating in my studio and reading multiple books a week while upsetting my wrists. I’m settling back into my groove. I look forward to meeting new faces at the Vineyard Artisans Festivals and creating close customer relationships as I share with others my artistic processes.

I’m on the Vineyard until say August 31. August 31 is my last Artisan Festival for the season. Then I have to go back to Portland to start my second year in my BFA. I’ll be learning new metal techniques such as casting and electroforming while starting another studio concentration in wood working…because why not make functional art?

Past dispatches here.

Learned a lot

By Erin Sullivan

The past year has had its ups and downs, with Driftwood’s Kickstarter being fully funded, switching out artists, personal endeavors with moving and the (not so) shocking revelation that every college isn’t going to accept me simply because of my experience with game development so far…and in the end, I wouldn’t have done or wanted it any different.

Erin Sullivan
Erin Sullivan

I’ve learned a lot from my time outside of school, mostly life experiences — things you can’t really experience in the classroom or in a lecture hall. If I had been in school, I don’t think I would’ve picked up on a lot of those lessons, I probably would’ve been too distracted by classes and work and ignored the real problem, only to run into it again later on.

Driftwood, while helping me stay motivated and busy, which in a sense has kept me happy, has also made me equally frustrated and angry at times. Spending the past two years on it, and only having so little to show for it, at least in terms of how much of the game is actually completed, or how much art is done is unsettling to me. Although I’ve learned over the months that work that involves a lot of people will always take time, there’s a reason studios take months and months to get games done. Quality takes time.

But…things are getting better, both for the game and myself. This fall I’ll be attending Becker College majoring in Game Design, and my basic plan is to finish Driftwood during my first year of school, and work onwards, using my connections and friendships at the school to start another long-term project.

Driftwood itself has had a few changes, for the better, in the past few weeks. We’ve changed our artists, so we have a more consistent style; we’ve managed to acquire a background artist, which helps a lot with making the semi-fictional world the game takes place in more believable. (Basically Martha’s Vineyard in 10 or so years.) Simply put, the game takes place in a world where the Charter School has converted into a full boarding-high school, with dorms and all the like around the campus.

A fictional boarding school at the Charter School.
A fictional boarding school at the Charter School.

I recently attended the 2014 Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School graduation, and it made me realize how much time had really passed. Just a year ago I had been standing on that stage, and it didn’t feel nearly as long as a year, but…time is relative. It’s just a thing humans made up to calculate when the best time of year it would be to plant crops, or when they could hunt migratory animals that move about between winter and summer.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to get at is that “time” passes quickly. Each day rolls into a week, and each week rolls into a month, and eventually, a whole year has passed.

Use your time wisely, and enjoy yourself.

Nothing gold can stay

By Bella Bennett

The final dispatch!

One of my favorite (yet entirely un-optimistic) sentiments has always been Robert Frost’s “Nothing gold can stay.” This year it meant a multitude of things for me. While my year of travel and adventure looks glorious on paper, it’s been somewhat more turbulent in the family department. We’ve felt the heartbreak of both cancer and Alzheimer’s, and I’ve begun to understand how magical the gift of family is. It’s the worst thing in the world to be helpless when a loved one’s health is threatened.

Isabella Bennett
Isabella Bennett

Before I left last summer, a good friend of mine told me, “the struggle is real,” and Ben Dwane, you were too right. However, I’m learning now to pick my struggles, as they have a tendency to grow quickly in number — similar in my mind to a population of poisonous spiders, which undoubtedly reproduce more quickly than I’d like to imagine. Unfortunately most struggles can’t be squashed as a spider can, and I’ve learned instead to attempt to balance the struggles I face with moments of fun and joy. As my past articles have revealed, I’ve been very lucky with the amount of joyful memories I’ve made over the past year, and I’d say that for the time being, I’ve thankfully tipped the struggle scale towards happiness instead of despair.

The past year, however, has taught me that time is a thing to be cherished. I don’t mean time as a measure of length, but instead as a measure of significant moments. While I struggle to pretend that everything is normal as my grandmother, who is one of my most inspiring role models, now forgets my name, I realize that while I don’t have more time with the woman she once was, we did have many great moments in the past — reading and writing stories, exploring nature, and just being together — and those times were a beautiful gift. I hope that I will be able to find the value that I do in those memories, in present moments, and that I will remember to always be grateful for what I have in front of me at any instant. I hope that everyone will. While some things have deteriorated, other glorious things have begun, like the lives of my brand-new twin cousins Lilly and Mira, and every moment that I spend with them, I feel lucky, because through my grandmother’s illness, I have learned the value of the moment, and I cannot thank her enough for that realization.

Bella Bennett and her grandmother.
Bella Bennett and her grandmother.

The past year has been a big growing year for me (I went from 5’6½” to 5’6¾” !) In all seriousness, I feel that I’ve learned a lot about myself, and I think that honestly I’ve recognized quite a bit of this growth through writing, and through these excerpts into my life especially. Writing for The Times has been a very positive and productive experience for me, and I look forward to writing more articles throughout the rest of the summer. I hope that everyone has a summer full of family, sunshine, happiness, and love.

Sarah-Thompson-protraitAfter 18 is an ongoing series about what four graduates from the class of 2013 are doing this year. This week’s dispatch is from Sara Thompson, who writes from Portland, Oregon, where she is attending the Oregon College of Art and Craft.

Hello again,

Art and science, this is what I like. At the end of last semester, I wanted to combine my love of science and metalwork. My final project for my metals class had to incorporate at least three techniques aside from soldering that we had learned, and involve the idea of connectivity. Usually I do jewelry work, so for this project I thought I’d branch out and try to make a sculptural piece.

Immediately, I knew what I wanted to create. I want my work to engage viewers while incorporating educational scientific realms; essentially having viewers learn about science by experiencing art through multiple senses. I envisioned creating an atom of an element of metal out of that metal. I want to show that even though atoms are tiny, they still exist and they’re all around us. We’re even made out of them! Yet, most of us don’t even realize that we’re all made out of atoms — nevertheless that they are the building blocks of everything around us. Anything in the universe, aside from energy, is made out of matter. Matter, elements in particular, can be broken down into smaller and smaller bits until you reach the atomic structure, since atoms are the basic building blocks of matter. The atom is a collection of protons, neutrons, and electrons that make up the smallest form of matter of a particular element. In the center of the atom is the atomic nucleus which is made out of protons and neutrons. The number of protons identify what element the atom is. The electrons whip around the nucleus, encasing it in a sphere of constant movement. I was determined to make an atomic structure that viewers could see and touch.

Silver is my go-to metal. However, given that this project was going to be a sculpture and the atom was going to be roughly seven inches in diameter, silver was going to be way over my budget. I pondered: what metals did I have access to and which atomic structure was I able to create. Gold, oh no; copper, I’m not too crazy about copper, especially since I was using silver solder; brass, I had access to but it isn’t an element. That left me with nickel. Nickel is darker than silver and I had easy access to it. I bought two sheets of nickel at 20 and 22 gauge and wire at 12 and 22 gauge. (The higher the gauge, the thinner the metal.)

I was going to take the 20 gauge nickel and cut two circles out of the same size. Each circle was going to be hammered into a hemisphere and then the hemispheres were going to be soldered together to create a sphere. I took the thinner piece of metal and used a disk cutter to punch out small circles 12 millimeters in diameter. I placed each circle in a steel “dapping” block that has different size hemispheres carved out. These are used to hammer the circle into, resulting in a hemisphere shape. These smaller hemispheres were going to be used to create the nucleus. Since the nucleus of nickel is a collective 59 spheres (28 protons and 31 neutrons), I was going to solder 59 hemispheres to the large sphere to create the illusion of this ball of spheres condensed together. It was terrifying to solder 59 things one after another, close together because sometimes soldering closed pieces without a way for the air to escape from the inside creates issues with air pressure — possible explosions — if the piece is big enough and it’s heated more than once. Luckily, my work was small enough, so in the end, I had little fear, although it was my first time soldering closed forms. After successfully soldering all hemispheres to the sphere, I had to clean up my excess solder.

"I decided to make 28 handmade beads to represent the electrons."
“I decided to make 28 handmade beads to represent the electrons.”

My next hurdle was to figure out how to make the electrons. The electrons fly around the nucleus like a cloud. However, there are electron orbitals that limit how many electrons can be in each orbital. Think of them like vehicles. Certain vehicles only have a certain amount of seats. The first orbital or automobile, has 2, then 8, 16, etc… So nickel has 28 electrons and 4 orbitals. I decided to make 28 handmade beads to represent the electrons. Using the same technique for hemispheres, I made even smaller hemispheres and soldered them together. I drilled holes to fit the 12 gauge wire. To make the orbitals, I beaded the beads onto the wire and soldered the wire closed and the beads proportionally apart for the four orbitals. The orbitals gradually increased in size so that one could fit inside another and orbit around the nucleus.

Now, how the hell to make this thing be mechanical and move, at 11 o’clock at night the night before it’s due? I sat at my bench, nickel dust all over my face, and stared at my contraption. Then, I just went for it, no sketching, no planning. I could see exactly what I needed to do in my mind. I started to make handmade chain with the 22 gauge wire. I soldered a half loop to the nucleus to create two firm attachments and then continued to individually solder each loop, alternating small and large ones. To attach the orbitals, I would create a loop and slip the orbitals into the large loop and solder the loop closed, but I made sure not to have the orbitals touching. Since the orbitals weren’t touching the loops, they could move freely and spin around the nucleus mimicking actual electrons. After attaching the orbitals, I made even large loops to hand make four feet of chain to suspend the atom from the ceiling.

"I was determined to make an atomic structure that viewers could see and touch."
“I was determined to make an atomic structure that viewers could see and touch.”

With the atom suspended, the atom hangs roughly lower than eye level. My sculpture behaves like a mobile: once it has a little bit of energy to rotate, it rotates in one direction, then back in another, and back again until it slows down eventually, looking like it’s still until more energy comes to set it in motion again. Viewers can see the electrons hovering around in their orbitals but never touching the nucleus. The orbitals can be adjusted at different angles to highlight how the position of an electron is ever changing. The nucleus ridges of the protons and neutrons can be touched and rubbed over.

It’s an atom of nickel made out of nickel.

Sara Thompson and (inset) her creation "Foam Flame." — courtesy Sara Thompson

Hello there,

I’m Sara Thompson and I graduated from MVRHS in May 2013. Though that’s a simple sentence, it’s a little bit more complicated than that. I graduated from the high school when I was 16 and moved across the country a few days after I turned 17, to a place where I didn’t have friends or family, to pursue my passion for metalsmithing.

Yes — hammering, forging, soldering, melting, and manipulating metal to craft pieces of wearable art, jewelry, and small sculptures. That’s what I do and have been doing on my Friday nights. It’s what I want to study and do for the rest of my life — crafting metal — learning the way metal behaves.

My affinity for metal started when I was 11. I had recently moved from Connecticut to Oak Bluffs and received an apprenticeship with a silversmith, Amy Kirkpatrick, that lasted five years. I learned how to handcraft settings; drill and set pieces (primarily sea glass); polish metal to a high shine; and solder, while observing how Amy ran her own business. After that, I went on to apprentice for a metalsmith, Kenneth Pillsworth, where I worked with an array of metals in his home studio.

Meanwhile during my sophomore year, I was exploring the realms of a glass on metal technique called enameling. After a short lowdown on how to do this from Brendan Coogan, the crafts teacher at the high school, I gave it a try. There were hundreds of packets of powdered glass — enamel — labeled with different numbers. I took a torch in my left hand, and a steel rod in my right, as if it was a paint brush, and heated up the glass enamel on top of small pieces of copper, from the underside, until it was molten. While the glass was molten, I manipulated the glass with the steel rod as if it were paint. As I repeated this process over and over again, I began to decode the packets. It was captivating, seeing and manipulating variables of the glass, layers of glass, different metals and gauges, duration, placement, and different gasses of the torch. I began to understand how these different variables would affect the piece and how I’d be able to use them to create what I envisioned.

Combining the glass and metal resonated for me. When we first see glass, it’s a solid, but flows like a liquid with the influence of gravity while molten. Being a science geek, I wanted to know what are these molecules doing? What is going on this level? I wanted to learn.

I started painting with molten enamel on copper. As I explored, I created abstract glass paintings on copper and combined it with my metalsmithing knowledge. I treated the enameled pieces as if they were stones and set the into handmade settings for rings, cuffs, and pendants. Then I started my jewelry business while toying with the idea of graduating high school a year early to pursue a career in metalsmithing. I wanted to learn more and that meant getting off the giant pile of sand.

I spent that summer looking at colleges, working and apprenticing full time, and working on my business and online shop. Though I had one thing up my sleeve — I knew I wanted to do metalsmithing and I was going to do metalsmithing. I believe 50 or so colleges offer metals/jewelry as a major, so that was a big help.

The next year in my junior/senior (take your pick) year, I tried to apply to college without a GPA, rank, or an SAT score. (Honestly, it’s art school where SAT scores tend to be optional.) I only wanted to apply to two schools. One of them was California College of Art, where  hopefully I could double major in metalsmithing and glass blowing (I hoped to have the opportunity to try three dimensional glass work and continue to learn how glass behaves) if the money panned out. And I applied to Oregon College of Art and Craft, which does not have glass blowing, but does have a small — roughly 150 people — and incredible community of talented artists dedicated to not just art, but craft — the skill of making. From the first time I wandered onto their website, I felt that this is where I would feel at home and be able to explore my deeper connection to the artistic expression and hone my craft.

This is my new home, in Portland.

A place of cozy drizzly days in the studios and in cafes reading about science.

Really, you can go to a coffee shop (grocery stores included) and not know anyone.

Where being a vegan is a norm,

where the science sections in book stores get cases upon cases of every branch,

where the post office is open past five,

where pumping your own gas is actually illegal,

and where escalators still make me feel uncomfortable.

Where now, I do art all day, throughout the day, one studio to the next, to another one, to the house (OCAC doesn’t have stereotypical dorms; we have houses) to do art for homework, and pushing myself into areas I would not have gone otherwise. I get wrapped up in the quietness of my mind for hours in the studio wandering the depths and length of mastering new techniques and understandings with the occasional fix of a science related jigsaw puzzle, books, and weekly science magazines.

See a video of Sara making jewelry here.