When Charleroi Area High School art teacher Patrick Camut returned to the classroom this year, he had some additions to his vocabulary, including such atypical art terms as welder’s helmet, arc and spot welders, acetylene torches, soldering and T-joints.
Camut graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2012 with two degrees – one in fine arts focusing on sculpture and the second in art education – and is in his fourth year teaching at Charleroi.
However, this year he returned to the classroom with a greater understanding of and appreciation for roles of teacher and student, as well as renewed perspectives of both.
“Being an artist gives me exposure to the art world and allows me to pass on what I learn to my students who may be considering a career in the arts,” he said. “Art educators should step outside the classroom and participate in the arts to ensure they are giving their students a well-rounded education. This is one of my motives for staying active as a sculptor.”
Factor in some inspiration from Johnny Cash and a trip to Vermont in Camut’s expanding roles.
With an affinity for welding and metalworking, Camut enrolled in a certified welder’s program offered by Community College of Allegheny County at its Oakdale campus in pursuit of an associate’s degree. He began the program last spring and will continue this fall semester, taking night classes that don’t conflict with his teaching schedule.
Camut, 27, said he has no plans to leave art education for a new career, but finally felt comfortable taking classes to improve his welding and sculpting skills. However, through his trade school experience he “wanted to create a sculpture incorporating the benefits of welding school as a tribute to my current education.”
Camut’s welding professor, Cody Stroud, “embraced the idea for a welding student to build a sculpture and guided me in locating materials, teaching new techniques, and directing me to school administrators who would appreciate the idea,” Camut said.
During this project, Camut, a Charleroi Area grad, switched roles from educator to student.
“It enabled me to appreciate my role as a teacher more and realize that helping students in the simplest of ways can positively change their lives,” he said.
In going from teacher to student, Stroud referred to Camut as “an inspiration, returning to class to improve his skills, but he was also an inspiration to other students in that he encouraged them to explore the arts. With his background, he added a charisma and positive attitude to class as well.”
Having a student with no plans to enter the welding field, but merely there to expand his skills, “was a different experience for me,” Stroud added, “something students coming out of high school cannot offer. He brought a different enthusiasm to class and I can only rave about his participation and interest. He wanted to be there and his curiosity about everything in class helped other students. Even though he had no welding experience, Patrick created his project with pristine welds.”
One night, while working in his welding booth at CCAC and listening to Johnny Cash’s song, “One Piece at a Time,” the proverbial lightbulb glowed in Camut’s mind.
He decided to create a sculpture that could use T-joints – a basic steel form that represents the foundation of a welding school’s curriculum and which students practice making hundreds of times to prepare for their certification test.
In “One Piece at a Time,” Camut intended for viewers “to see rusty T-joints frozen in time as they travel into a scrap bucket.
“If one studies welds on T-joints, a trained eye may notice the progression of weld quality as they approach the final stainless steel T-joint,” Camut explained. “Huge numbers of rusty T-joints that make up the majority of the form are a symbol for how much one must weld before having the ability to produce the welds on the stainless T-joint found on the top of the sculpture. Welding may seem complicated at first, but once one moves beyond the sparks and occasional burns, it is repetition to perfection and the final product.”
With Stroud’s help and encouragement – and one entire week of welding the sculpture – “One Piece at a Time” was complete.
Along with his wife, Alison, Camut’s next step was to load the seven-foot, one-ton steel sculpture, plus tools, supplies and all the pieces that would require on-site assembly onto a trailer for an eight-hour trip to the North Bennington, Vt., Outdoor Sculpture Show.
Organized by Vermont Arts Exchange and curated by Joe Chirchirillo, who saw Camut’s artwork online, Camut was invited to show “One Piece at a Time.” Recognized as the artist who traveled the farthest distance, the show is a “unique experience where a small Vermont town transforms itself into an outdoor art show showcasing more than 30 artists from all over the East Coast,” Camut noted. “One Piece at a Time” will be on display until Oct. 23.
Camut and his wife left Charleroi July 21, set up the sculpture the next day for the show’s opening July 23, and returned the following day.
“Taking the welding class has been very rewarding,” he added. “I learned a new skill and found a new appreciation for trade school at the same time. Prior to welding school, I only had experiences of a four-year university. But now that I have been exposed to a trade school, I have first-hand information regarding how trade schools prepare students for various careers. Students who opt for trade schools should be encouraged to follow their hearts.”
After Camut graduates from CCAC, he will have earned several different welding certifications, permitting him to weld anything from a bridge to a pipeline. He hopes to create outdoor sculptures in public venues, with his welding certifications allowing him to guarantee that anything he builds is safe and durable for public places.
“Art should be everywhere for people to enjoy,” he said. “Public spaces that display art from murals to outdoor sculptures are the best way for everyone to enjoy art for free.”