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Monday, Oct. 20, 2014

Teacher welds her artistic talents

Monday, April 12, 2004

(Photo)
Sheila Bohannon
SIKESTON - An art teacher by day, a welder by night.

Sheila Bohannon, a Sikeston sixth grade art teacher, has taught since the fall of 1986. But it's what she did before and what she is starting to do now that catches one's eye.

"I started with art back in the '70s but what really drew my attention was drafting," Bohannon said. "So I decided I would get an industrial arts degree along with my teaching degree." One of only three women in her industrial department at school, it was something new for that time.

"When I graduated with this degree there weren't many women going into this field especially who were teaching it," Bohannon said. "Most of the students weren't used to looking at their shop teacher who was wearing high heels and a dress."

After moving to Sikeston and teaching the seventh grade industrial arts class, Bohannon decided to fill an opening for the art department.

Since she made this move, she has opened a door to another non-traditional trade for a woman as well.

"About four years ago I decided to start taking a welding class at the Sikeston Career and Technology Center. I instantly fell in love with the trade," Bohannon said.

"Sheila has done very well and for the art aspect she is very interested in how she does everything and what she uses to do it," said Adam Rodden, SCTC welding instructor.

Bohannon uses a process called plasma cutting. Starting with a flat piece of metal, she cuts it out to the pattern, then begins forging it.

To forge the metal Bohannon uses a set up that lets the fire be contained while she forges the metal pieces over the flame. This makes the metal heat up and allows Bohannon the ability to bend and shape her work.

"My husband found an old barbecue grill that we ended up turning into my forge," Bohannon said.

Bohannon added a tube to the bottom of the grill and kept an opening to the inside of the grill. She then attached a blow dryer to the tube to allow the air to flow through the grill to keep the heat rising.

"She never backs down, she's not afraid to get around the fire," said Rodden. "She hammers and shapes her own metal to how she wants it."

Bohannon gets to work on her art and perfect her welding for six weeks during the spring and fall.

"Since the class is only offered at the two times I only get to work on them in the evenings after I get done teaching," Bohannon said.

"I told Larry one of these times when he is gone on a week-long board meeting I'm going to hire someone to build me an addition on to the house so I can work at home," she joked.

While he might not be ready for that, Bohannon does have his backing.

"This is a rare trade to begin with especially being a woman, but I support her 110 percent," her husband, Larry, said As Bohannon has become more confident with her welding, she has decided to take it a step further.

"I would like to do more forging, and I have checked into a few blacksmith schools up around Potosi. That is my next step; learning the trade of a blacksmith and creating more of the elaborate art work out of metal," Bohannon said.

Her work has been displayed in galleries and museums, including the Sikeston Depot. She is a member of the Bootheel Regional Art League.

What her future holds remains uncertain, but Bohannon stresses she has no intentions of quitting the trade.

"I have a few options I would like to explore in the future one being maybe teaching a welding class that could be an advanced art sculpture class. I would also like to maybe open my own studio, so I could work more intensely on my pieces," Bohannon said.

Throughout her life Bohannon said one thing she tries to do is show her students that in art there are no closed doors. "Through my years of teaching I have enjoyed seeing the spark in the kids when they realize they have achieved something they never thought they were capable of doing," Bohannon said.