All Fired Up


Expanded Hume Center sparks students' interest in blacksmithing and furniture building

By Stephen Collins '74
Photography by Rob Kievit '09

Dr. Alan Hume, working with Charlie Goodman '09.
Photo by Rob Kievit '09
With a reputation for sending liberal arts graduates into offices and labs around the world, Colby isn't the place you'd expect to find a senior pounding red-hot steel, sparks flying, as part of a course in blacksmithing.

But a visit to the new blacksmith's shop at the Colby-Hume Center during January reveals Arielle Adams '07J going at it, literally with hammer and tongs. It is midwinter in Maine and the outside door is propped open, but the shop is toasty with forges glowing.

And the place is kinetic. Six students, under the watchful eye of master blacksmith Doug Wilson, are bustling around in various stages of planning or fabricating, building light fixtures with mica lenses, a firewood rack, a circular wall hanging, a table, and several penguins.

The fact that it offers blacksmithing (and fine woodworking, another course at the Colby-Hume Center each January) is unusual, for an institution like Colby. And, with the construction of the new blacksmith's studio last fall, Colby facilities are first class.

Paula Shagin '09 works with a welding torch.
Photo by Rob Kievit '09
The new facility is the latest chapter in a book-length work by Dr. Alan Hume, former medical director and overseer at Colby, and his wife, Dorothy. Beginning in 1989 they began deeding their 13.5-acre property on Messalonskee Lake to Colby with an agreement that they will continue to live there as long as they want. The transfer was completed this year, but the Humes' contributions continue. They donated about 40 percent of the cost of the new 2,900-square-foot building that contains the 1,600-square-foot smithy, office and lunchroom space, storage, and rooms for two Jan Plan instructors who teach metal and wood working. And then there are the relationships.

"It's been an absolute privilege to have them [the Humes] in my life," said Kate Braemer '07 who's taken both Jan Plan courses and is currently building a kayak at the Colby-Hume Center. "They're like another set of grandparents."

And Braemer's is no isolated case. When the Humes invited all 160 alumni of the center's January courses and 12 pre-med summer interns (1981-90) back to dedicate the building and celebrate Dr. Hume's 80th birthday in 2006, fully 60 percent of them made the trip to the lakeside property in Sidney, Dr. Hume said.

The occasion was more special because the new building and forges were dedicated to the late Kevin S. Young '83, M.D., the Humes' proto-protégé. As a Colby student, Young became the first in a succession of pre-med Colby students that Dr. Hume mentored in medicine and a forerunner of all the students that the couple have taken under their wing. Young, an internist in New York City, died of a brain tumor in 2005 at age 43.

Ryan Rodel '08 and Dave Rutherford '07 bend heated steel in the blacksmith shop.
Photo by Rob Kievit '09
To outfit the shop, Wilson, of Little Deer Isle, persuaded five fellow smiths and welders to spend several days camping at the site, building hearths, stands, and tools. "We asked, 'If I built my own shop over again, what would I do?'" he said, obviously satisfied with the layout and furnishings.

The new building freed space for the woodworking program too, since the two activities no longer share the original building. In the expanded wood shop, now the Dorothy Hume Furniture Shop, students under the guidance of furniture maker Kevin Rodel spent January working on dovetails, mortis-and-tenon joints, furniture, and solid-panel cabinetry. "We try to assess if they're really serious or if they're looking for a basketmaking course," Rodel said.

Gut? Think again. There's a minimum commitment to 32 hours a week, and most students spend more time than that. Charles Goodman '09 said that, in the spirit of Jan Plan, he was looking for something different this year. And working out the angle of leg bevels for an octagonal walnut table was proving to be a puzzle for the biology-neuroscience major.

Emma Balazs '09, who took blacksmithing her first year and made an armillary sphere for her mother's garden, was in the wood shop this year, working on a Shaker-style chest with cherry base and lid, dovetailed white ash case, and bird's-eye maple panel. "It definitely exercises a different part of the brain," she said.

Arielle Adams, in her apron and goggles, said the challenges of her Jan Plan were both physical and intellectual. "I go home really tired."

Adam Zois '94, visiting instructor, assists Evan Kaplan '08 with a furniture-making project.
Photo by Rob Kievit '09
The newly expanded Colby-Hume Center workshops, much of the cost of which was donated by Dorothy and Dr. Alan Hume,
Photo by Rob Kievit '09
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  • On October 14, 2007, mark kramer wrote:
    thanks for this insightful article, which has helped me understand a liitle more of the HUME Center committments and what is going on. My daughter Kathleen (2010) and I took a ride out to the HUME Center today. We were not sure of all that went on "out there" except for crew HQ . We were so intrigued by the grounds, buildings, and obvious committment to develoment of crafts/skills that we vowed to check it out online .......and VOILA --I now will encourage my daughter to spread the word and considers a HUME JAN PLAN experience in the shop ... many thanks! Mark Kramer Norwell MA oct 14 07