Dillon Compton's focus is split between computer science, biology, and robotics. Daniel Eareckson studies design. Alex Smith's classwork mostly involves emergency medicine and education. Try to find these three third-year students on any given Thursday night, though, and they won't be pursuing those subjects. The trio, along with other Hampshire students, will more than likely be found in a tucked-away corner of the Lemelson Center serving their apprenticeship at a trade that goes back thousands of years.
These guys, believe it or not, are blacksmiths.
"It's something most people think is a dead art," says Compton. "We're all still amateurs, but we're getting there."
Since Don Dupuis started working in the Lemelson machine shop about nine years ago, blacksmithing has managed to plant roots on campus. Dupuis' dad, a foreman at the Springfield Armory, was the one who first introduced him to the trade, and he followed that early start with years of practice. By the time he joined the Lemelson staff at Hampshire, he had the background to start passing on the skills in the same way his dad did, and the way blacksmiths have been doing for centuries.
"It's still an ancient way of teaching. It's handed from one person to another, and a lot of it is verbal. It's a traditional method of teaching that still works, especially at a place like Hampshire where the theme is experiential education," says Dupuis, whose first campus blacksmith shop was set up in a specially made tent complete with chimneys.
Over the years the popularity of blacksmithing on campus has fluctuated, and when Compton, Eareckson, and Smith arrived in 2006 involvement had dropped to a low point. They changed that quickly. Compton got his introduction to smithing on his first day of college (it was something he'd wanted to try for years), while Smith and Eareckson's training had begun in high school.
"This is one of the reasons I came here," says Eareckson, who plans to include blacksmithing in his Div III project. "Right down the road from where I live, there is a historical society that had a forge in the basement. I used to hang out there."
The three restarted the then-nearly dissolved Blacksmith Collective and have helped build it to a point where, two years later, upwards of 25 students are actively involved. The group meets on Thursdays from 9 to 11 p.m., and on particularly busy nights the two forges inside Lemelson are sometimes supplemented with a third outside. The group is made up of a mix of skill levels, from absolute beginners on up, and projects range from the simplest designs to complicated undertakings like pot racks. Aside from the creativity, there's also a more primitive aspect that Smith says is a draw for some.
"I use it to cut stress. It's great, you come in here and hammer on a piece of metal," he says.
Any student interested in getting involved with the Blacksmith Collective can just drop by Lemelson on Thursday nights. The tools will be there waiting.