About Welding, Confidence and the Soothing Power of Crafting

Grace Anne Odom joined the maker space Habibi.Works as a supervisor for the metal workshop in June 2019. In her last week with the project, she offered a guided training within the NetWorks Program* to share her skills in welding techniques. In this interview, she gives an insight into her experience, the power of crafting and the challenges and surprises this male dominated working area held for her. 

Grace, you joined Habibi.Works as a supervisor for the metal workshop. How did you get into metal work in the first place? 
I signed up for a welding class, kind of haphazardly, in high school. I have always been a maker and thought it might be fun to learn how to work with metal. Once I learned the basic skills, I was hooked. I became addicted to the design, building, and perfecting process. Like one of Habibi.Works’ Co-Founders, Flo, said in one of our previous conversations, craft has the potential to be meditative when you’re perfectionist about every aspect of it. This is an aspect of metal working that I really fell in love with. At the time that I was learning how to weld, I was dealing with some of my own trauma and having a hard time getting through it. Welding served as this empowering distraction for me. It rebuilt my confidence, made me feel in control of my surroundings again, and kept my mind off negative topics. When I came to Habibi.Works, this “meditative” form of crafting is something that I really wanted to share with the users.

 What motivated you to travel all the way to Greece and share your skills in a project like Habibi.Works, working with people who came to Europe as refugees?
I’m pursuing a vocation that combines social work and craft. But, this kind of career is something that is off the beaten path. Where I’m from, there are many places that offer art therapy, but I haven’t discovered any maker spaces or craft oriented spaces that are steeped in social work yet. I did a lot of research to find places that are (in hopes to gain experience) and this is how I found Habibi.Works. I was eager to come help out in the metal shop while observing how the organization functions. I was specifically interested in observing exactly how the physical act of crafting—regardless of medium—could heal individuals, empower minorities, and unify a diverse population.

I think craft holds this authentic ability to unite diverse community members over just one common, apolitical interest which can subtly and effectively facilitate numerous positive impacts on communities. Here, I’ve seen the act of crafting in a community setting reconfigure gender roles, empower individuals, and open conversations between people that probably would not have talked without the setting. I’ve had amazing conversations with other team members here about how crafting and manual labor have this interesting way of distracting negative energy.

My pursuit of empowering others through craft derives from my own experience of finding a sense of self and belonging in my high school welding class, and is reflected by my personal time spent volunteering at Rosie’s Girls Weld, hosting accessible art events, and teaching peers and professors about metalsmithing. Continuing this personal inquiry, I am eager to connect with other craftspeople in unfamiliar places and investigate their contribution to community through a sociological lens.

Looking at your time in Habibi.Works, how did you experience the daily work and the interactions in the metal workshop?
Up until the guided introduction training in welding I offered in my last week in Habibi.Works, only men came into the metal studio. Apparently it was a funny sight—a tiny young women supervising the shop while several tall, middle aged men of different nationalities welded away. And it was quite a funny experience for me too. I often didn’t speak the same language as the users, so we communicated through pointing, facial expressions, and making the sounds and movements of tools that we were trying to talk about. Given the language barriers and our cultural differences, I thought gaining their respect as a woman was going to take at least a few weeks. But actually, we formed positive relationships within a few hours. Once I proved that I actually knew what I was talking about, they were receptive to my instruction and reinforcement of safety rules. I think they were just as happy to share the space with me as I was with them. Some of them even taught me a few welding tricks.

Once you announced the guided workshop, also a woman signed up to participate. What was the experience you made with her? 
I was super excited to have Mercedeh in the metal workshop with me. I saw her working a lot in the woodworking studio before, and I heard about how her and her husband were great at planning and executing different projects with wood. When I asked Mercedeh to join, she seemed really pumped about it, but also a little unsure if she could do it since she never welded before. Luckily for me, she was adventurous enough to sign up for the challenge. Mercedeh was an extremely quick learner. Within a few hours of practice, she was welding beautifully and technically well. Her welds looked much better than what I was seeing most of the male users do. Even so, there were times when she wasn’t confident in her ability. She would say “I’m not going to be able to do this right,” or “these welds are awful.” Then I would push her to just do it, even if it turns out badly. But her work always turned out more impressive than expected. At one point I said, “This is amazing! One day of practice and you’re already welding well. You just need more confidence in yourself.” And her husband responded, “This is what I keep telling her!” I hope that after some encouragement and private practice through this workshop, she has come to understand that she is actually very good at metalworking. And I hope that in the future, now that she is familiar with the tools and the space, she will feel comfortable and confident working in the metal shop even when there are only men in there. If she continues to make space for herself in this area, I know other woman will see and feel more welcome in the space just by being represented. When I come back, I’d like to see some woman taking on their own projects in there.

Thank you, Grace!

*The NetWorks Program is a project launched within Habibi.Works and funded by the Facebook Community Leadership Program, to invite both, international experts and experts from the local Greek Community to travel to Habibi.Works and offer an intensive training in different areas of expertise.

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