Yardie Interviews → Brian Dowling

Sparkie recently sat down with Brian Dowling, the Associate Director of the Steel Yard, Shop Guru, and the man who has been keeping the wheels GREASED for the past seven years. 

Brian Dowling

Brian Dowling – Associates Director at the Steel Yard, Sculptor

Hometown - I am from East Falmouth, Massachusetts.

Favorite Food - Bacon plus just about anything equals delicious.


Sparkie: Welcome Brian, I hear you have some news to share…

Brian Dowling:  Thanks. I do have some big news. I’ve been with the Steel Yard almost 7 years and January will be my last month as a Steel Yard employee.  I will be passing the torch of stewardship of the studio and facility to some other brave/ creative/ slightly crazy soul in the beginning of 2014.

Sparkie: You’ve been at the Yard for a long time. Can you share some of the changes you have seen over the past 7 years?

Brian:  There are almost too many to list. Probably the biggest change is the environmental remediation, which totally altered the landscape of the Steel Yard. We went from a down and dirty place that had it’s own unique beauty to something that has retained a lot of the character, but made the space much more versatile and useable. More recently, the buildings have been undergoing improvements.  The building improvements started when a huge section of corrugated roofing blew off during a violent storm. That reshuffled the deck as far as what was a top priority. We’ve been steadily fundraising and improving the facilities.

We’ve seen tremendous growth over the years as an organization. I think that all areas, from Public Projects to our course offerings have just blown up. Our foundry has come back on line, which is great.  We’re also adding TIG welding stations to the middle studio. The TIG welders will complete the spectrum of welding processes we teach. You can learn to forge weld in blacksmithing, gas weld, arc weld, MIG weld in a regular welding class and soon, with TIG welding, you’ll be able to weld more exotic materials. Right now we pretty much exclusively teach metal working with mild steel, so aluminum, brass, bronze are all exotic in our book.

Brian Dowling Foundry

Sparkie:  What are some experiences you can share about working here?

Brian:  Sure, there are some favorites from over the years.

At the risk of sounding corny, the people I’ve met through the Steel Yard are easily my single favorite aspect of having worked here. We get to interact with so many different people all the time. I’m also very proud to have been a part of a small staff that has been able to accomplish so much. It’s amazing that such a small group of talented individuals can work together to realize something as ambitious as running the Steel Yard. That is accomplished in large part by including the community and other organizations in a lot of what we do.

I think that the Steel Yard is really good at making people feel like they belong. A studio has a personality. I think that ours is really friendly and wants you to come visit and make something cool. People respond well to that.

I also really love the different groups of people that wind up interacting because they are at the Steel Yard. We had a group of high school students working on a bench for their school at the same time we were running a welding training program for a college maintenance department. Both groups were able to share their excitement about the skills they were learning and the projects they were working on. 

Brian Dowling Volunteers

I have also had the opportunity to teach some classes at the Yard. There was one student that was in my sculpture class and he was really good. He was in college for business and he was considering dropping out to pursue art. I was so proud. He did the smart thing and graduated and is quite successful I’m sure, but we had some long talks about making art for a living.

I am always moved when people donate tools to the studio. Many times the gift is a tool that belonged to a friend or family member who passed away. I love the history of a tool, that someone is swinging a hammer for the first time and it belonged to someone else who used it their whole lives. Maybe their initials are etched into it. There is an immortality somewhere in there, the learning and use of a tool being passed down.

On a lighter note, we have an annual Yankee Swap that is pretty great. Someone lost a tooth one year. There was a fog machine. Need I say more? I think I went home with a cake pan that year, or maybe it was a musical tie.

Brian Dowling Foundry CREW

Sparkie: What are some things that you think the Steel Yard has done really well?

Brian: The Steel Yard has always had an awareness of its role in the community. We met as an organization when the country was slipping into recession in 2007 to discuss what we could do as the Steel Yard and what people needed. We came up with an analogy that we were like a fire barrel that the community could gather around, feel safe, and hopefully help to weather the storm. I think those times were the seeds for what became our work force training programs.

We also participated in Culture Stops in March of 2011. It was a response to the hostility shown toward arts funding and in my opinion arts and culture in general on a national level. It was a unique kind of rallying as it wasn’t in opposition to specific legislation, but more to stand up and say that art is actually important and vital and not a luxury that is expendable. I felt very connected to other nonprofits and artists in our area as well as farther a field.

I think that some of the fundraising events at the Yard have become stellar. The Halloween Iron Pour in particular is just so good. We collaborate with the Iron Guild every year to put on what I think is the best Halloween event anywhere. We’ve seen Viking funerals, Zombie Kings, flaming skulls, iron filled jack-o-lanterns and a giant dragon over the years.  This year there is rumor of an angry volcano god.  One of my first experiences at the Steel Yard was attending the first Halloween Iron Pour as a spectator. I still can’t believe that I was lucky enough to get involved with the Yard and so many years later I get to actually participate in the Halloween Pour.

Sparkie: What are you most exited about?

Brian: I am excited to see the Steel Yard from a different vantage point- To interact with the people and the place as an artist and a collaborator. I look forward to watching it continue to grow and change.

Sparkie:  What’s next?

Brian:  I’m not completely sure. I have some irons in the fire, but the Steel Yard is a tough act to follow.  Sorry, I tend to mix metaphorss.

Sparkie: We’ll miss you so much. Is there anything else you would like to say?

Brian: Well, I’m not gone yet. And even when I am no longer the Associate Director, I still intend to be involved with the Steel Yard. There are so many classes that I haven’t had the time to take and I’d like to continue to help with the foundry.

Sparkie: Okay, that’s enough. We wish you the best of luck in all your future endeavors, and look forward to hearing all about your future adventures!

Brian Dowling With Tree