Yardie Interviews → Lee Corley

November 17, 2010 - Lee Corley, Artist and fabricator

Lee Corley, 25
Artist and fabricator
Hometown: Providence, RI
Favorite thing: Garlic

Lee Corley has been involved around the Steel Yard for the past four years.  She’s worked on a number of Public Projects, taught and assisted a few of our workforce development programs, and is currently finishing a beautiful new collection of planters, a bench and a trashcan for Community Works (designed and fabricated with Tim Ferland).  Most often, you can find Lee kicking a tennis ball around the Yard for her dog, Sadie.  Sparkie sat down with Lee to find out about her metalworking experience at the Yard and future plans in the industry.

Steel Yard:  How did you first get involved at the Yard?
Lee Corley: I’d been working for and with Monica Shinn since I was 17 as her assistant.  Her studio trailers were located at the back of the site here.  I had done a couple jobs for her, here and there, and she introduced me to Howie Sneider, who runs Public Projects.  Howie took me on for my first Public Project, which was making a bike rack for the Southside Community Land Trust.  

SY:  How did you get started working with Monica?  
LC:  I used to make jewelry and wanted to learn more, but didn’t know where I could.  After asking around, someone connected Monica and I, as Monica had made jewelry in school.  Soon after meeting, I started as “intern La Mano” for her and Jeremy Woodward’s company, El Studio La Mano.  I made theater sets with them, learned general carpentry and how to weld.  

SY:  Where did you become interested in jewelry?
  I took a class in high school and had a great teacher.  After high school I tried to stick with it, but soon became interested in larger work.  I started to feel like jewelry was a little too … delicate … for me.  

SY:  What are some of the Steel Yard projects you’ve worked on?  
I’ve made bike racks for Hope Street, blacksmithed trash cans for Newport with Will Reeves, bike racks for Tortilla Flats, assisted a Youth Build workforce training program, taught the Weld to Work program and Camp Metalhead.

SY:  Has your involvement with Public Projects evolved or changed?
Every project I do here is different in some way.  Even if it’s just a single bike rack, I feel a lot of freedom to be creative.  I’ve definitely progressed.

SY: Have you own personal projects progressed as well?
I started taking on larger projects, and then projects that were TOO big.  I learned how to plan for each job and which ones I should take, and which ones I should hire more help for.  

SY: What have some of your own projects been?
  I’ve made a bunch of handrails for businesses and houses, these really cool bench backs for a cabin in Maine where I got to go and help install them, too.  I did three panels for Dash Bike Shop on Broadway.  They are about 7’ by 8’ window grates that offer protection, but are really artistic.  I designed them with a penny-farthing bicycle motif.  It’s the bike with the big front wheel and the small back one, roughly the ratio of a penny to a farthing.

SY: What’s a farthing?
  It’s a very small English coin.  But, the window grates are huge!

SY:  You recently applied, and were hired at Electric Boat.  What was the application process like?
  It’s a national security position, so you have to fill out about 35 pages of paperwork listing details from the past seven years of your life.  Places you’ve lived, school you went to, times you left the country and stuff like that.  Next, if you fill out the paperwork correctly, you get a drug test, physical and blood test.  I performed a welding test, at a much higher voltage then I weld with here.  Next I have a two-week orientation and then more training to get up to their level of weld quality.  

SY:  Did your welding experience here at the Yard help with the process?
Definitely, they wouldn’t have hired me otherwise.  Well, they may have hired me, but I got a higher starting rate because of my experience.  What they were really into was that I had taught classes, and how important safety is at the Yard.  When they called one of my references, Howie, he told them how I was safety minded, and that left an impression.  

SY:  Did you have to prepare for the welding test?
  I asked Dan Neff, who teaches here and works at Electric Boat, for advice on the test.  It was nothing I couldn’t handle.   

SY:  What will you be doing at EB?
Welding.  But, you can shift around and apprentice different trades like pipe fitting, too.  There seem to be a lot of opportunities and benefits.

SY:  Did it seem much different from our shop?  
  It didn’t seem that different during my welding test, but you do have to wear a full fire-retardant suit, arm protection, cloth hood, leather arm protectors, steel toed boots and more.  They provide a lot of the gear, but only one pair of safety glasses per year.  

SY:  So what’s next?  Are you going to continue freelance work?  
  I want to work my butt off.  I can learn a lot at electric boat, but I’d like to keep doing creative projects on the weekend or later in the day.  At first I’ll stick to working full time and EB and get used to the schedule.  I’d also like to take a few classes at the Yard with my more regular schedule.  

SY:  You’ve competed in the past two years of our Iron Chef competition.  What have you thought of it?  Are you going to enter again?
  I thought it was AWESOME!  I love it.  I had never thought of anything like it, but I was psyched when I got asked by Anna Shapiro to enter last year.  Alex Wallace and Ariel Schecter were also on our team, and it was a great competition.  This year I headed the team with Ariel Schecter, Sarah Clover and Blaise Rein and we finished in 2nd place.  I’ll keep on entering until I win, and then probably more after that.  

SY:  Is Iron Chef your favorite Steel Yard event?  
  Yeah, but this year’s Iron Pour was a close second.  It being on the hill was so good because everyone could see.  It was way better than last year.

SY:  Do you have any advice for someone looking to get into your line of work?
  What worked for me was to find someone in the business I wanted to be in, and ask if I could work for him or her.  Then I worked really hard so I could stick around.  Providence can be hard to find that person, but you have to keep trying.