Peter Simmons, a jolly fellow with a warm accent, spends days transforming wood at Vector Space. A relatively new member at two and a half years, Peter’s roots take him back to Watford, England. Now, at home in cozy little Lynchburg, Vector Space is proud to say that Simmons regularly visits to kick up a little dust, reshape some wood, and walk through the door with material that has a story tucked under his arm.
During an unsuspecting walk on the trails surrounding Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, Peter and his wife Brenda Simmons wandered right into a new leaf of opportunity for his woodworking. Chatting it up with historians on the Jeffersonian premises, he realized there was an extraordinary opportunity at hand, one that matched his philanthropic heart and his craft. The opportunity to use wood with more to say than your average yardstick! Teaming with specialists at the site Peter made a plan to breathe new life into former beams once used to hold up parts of the old estate. Beams became bowls! Individually crafted with the artist's hands no two bowls are just the same and none of the unique pieces spend much time away from Poplar Forest. The material may take a trip to Vector Space for a treatment on the lathe, but each bowl is then donated back to this world heritage site where it sprouts new energy for the museum, displayed with other significant works and for sale on site. Proceeds from the Museum Shop directly support educational programs, exhibits and property restoration efforts. Peter has donated a multitude of pieces back to Poplar Forest since his journey with woodworking began with friend, mentor, and fellow regular at Vector Space, Des Black.
Peter began learning with Des in September of last year. Since that time Peter has become accustomed to using wood that is found, reclaimed or discarded and he has been absolutely prolific in his woodworking endeavors, having finished an estimated eighty pieces since last year! Perhaps even more astonishingly Peter has sold only two! When I realized this he must have seen my gaping mouth, because he graciously went on to explain that he prefers to donate his pieces to organizations or gift them to friends and family. To explain this incredible amount of work Peter modestly remarks “I just like working with materials and keeping my brain active.”
I have my own suspicions that Peter’s professional life as a print instructor was quite a big job that left some large shoes to fill when retirement time came. Peter spent many of his career years training technicians to use printers…not just any printers, printers the size of the Vector Space woodshop itself! So, It is with great excitement that Vector Space gets to be a budding on looker nestled in the understory of Peter’s body of work. We can’t wait to see what he continues to do with his grand energy, creative prowess, and philanthropic heart. Thanks for taking us along, Peter.
Peter also enjoys collaborating with his wife Brenda, a painter, spending time with his children, and volunteering around the world for disaster relief with the Red Cross.
Des Black, native to Australia and regular keeper of the coals at Vector Space specializes in woodturning. Spending at least three hours in the shop every day since the age of 12, Des regularly produces signature bowls. Des also spends time enhancing the Bedford community by volunteering and sharing pieces with the Bower Center for the Arts. Those of us lucky enough to know Des or perhaps have experienced his mentoring on the lathe know that his passion for woodworking and his willingness to share his expertise are a valuable find in this world with too few teachers to go around.
Part of my work at Vector Space includes mining deeper and deeper into the culture of the makerspace and helping answer the question 'What makes a makerspace?' In a recent culture dive I met with Des to learn from him what I could about the lathe and about his role at Vector Space. After taking time to get to know one of the characters who make the space alive I’ve learned that Des is an incredibly dedicated teacher whose focus is on safety and longevity learning.
It’s a rare gem indeed to find a teacher who has chosen to diamond hone their craft and mentoring technique over the past 50 years or more. Building a character such as this requires breaking through barriers and clearing hurdles, of course. Des’s life experience as a maker began with his father at work together in the garage as early as the age of five. By age 12 his dad had him building his own working engine! Later, Des would go on to build his own home from the ground up in Australia. After all these years of pushing himself to grow as a craftsman his philanthropic nature hasn’t suffered; in workshop sessions there is no hiding his excitement to share his craft and his passion for mentoring!
Des shares some origin stories of his love for learning, crafting and spreading that joy…
“I am the eldest of 5 children. The youngest is a girl. From my initial memories dad ingrained into me responsibility and accountability and being the eldest also protector to my brothers and sister. At five I was his grease monkey that washed all the engine parts in kerosine prior to his reassembling. As I grew older, I was allowed to actively do mechanic type activities on engine parts, engines and gearboxes. At 12 that experience was tested when he gave me a well-used straight 6 engine and asked me to dis-assemble, clean, identify wear and determine best repair approach, reassemble with new rings and bearings and valve grind the valve seats in the head. Final assembly and startup. I worked on that engine many weekends and evenings with his coaching, but I did all the heavy lifting. This gave me great confidence in myself, and I developed very good problem-solving skills also. I have carried that coaching method and learning with me all my life.”
Des teaches workshops multiple times a year and teen summer programs occasionally, when he’s not out traveling the world, designing a sewing studio for his wife or donating his skills around town. Like a bit of coal condensed down after years of pressure we are proud to have a diamond in our rough and ready makerspace! Thank you for being a part of it Des!
Vector Space is moving! We need all the help we can get.
Here are the details:
- We are moving to 2004 Memorial Avenue, just one mile from the current shop
- The makerspace will be closed March 10-20
- The majority of the move will take place over two weekends: March 11-12 and March 18-19
- Please SIGN UP for a shift if you are able to help! We need you sign up, not just show up, so that we can stay organized. Sign up here
- If you have a truck/trailer, please bring it for your shift!
- Volunteers will be fed, appreciated, and loved forever.
- All volunteers should report to the 5th Street location (402 Fifth Street)
- Volunteer parking will be at the city lot at 4th & Court Streets (only trucks & trailers should park at VS)
- Volunteers will have a team lead to direct them in packing, loading, moving, and unloading one area of the shop.
To learn more about the Building Capital Campaign, visit: https://vector-space.org/capitalcampaign
To see a list of supporters that have made this move possible, visit: https://vector-space.org/2022-23-capital-campaign-donors
SIGN UP FOR A VOLUNTEER SHIFT HERE: https://vector-space.org/big-move
Summer Programs now open for enrollment!
We are offering three sessions for teens to build their maker skillset. Woodworking, public art, and environmental science are available for registration now.
In the collaboration room at Vector Space I was lucky to have an audience with entrepreneur and creator Clover Charles. With makers clicking, clacking, and creating in rooms all around. Clover- an entrepreneur, licensed cosmetologist, certified hair loss specialist and fellow at Vector Space - took time to weave me into her thoughts on working with Vector Space, running a business in Lynchburg, and co-creating with her daughter.
Clover runs two businesses rich in the art of caring for others. Oasis Caribbean takeout restaurant, taking care of people’s hungry tummies, and The Beauty in Serenity salon, a medical and cosmetic wig business taking care of people’s dignity. After five years of working through accreditation Clover is proud to now be offering insurance covered services for clients who have experienced medical trauma. Clover’s caring nature doesn't end with her, she has passed that loveable trait to her daughter, Cadejha Samuel. Sharing the responsibilities of the business, Clover takes care of clients and her daughter quite literally ties up loose ends, sewing incredibly intricate wigs to suit their clients needs. One of Clover’s greatest joys in serving clients is knowing that “when you look well, you feel well, and you are able to heal”.
All of her passion helps but doesn't fully account for the difficulties you undertake when you open a business. Like many business owners Clover has felt discouraged, unprepared at times in her entrepreneurial journey, and suffered from “that woe is me mindset,” she says. Quickly though, she discovered a community in Vector Space that helped fortify her own inner strength. Clover told me of how “coming here (VS) and seeing people and hearing people is the difference between me being down here and me leveling up”. She went on to explain that without having come to Vector Space and participating in CO.STARTERS, a ten-week entrepreneur training program, she wouldn’t have been able to hear about other artist and business owners’ hiccups, hardships, and red tape problems. Knowing that she wasn’t alone in trying and struggling to seamlessly step into business ownership gave her new strength to face entrepreneurial challenges. She describes how she couldn't do what she is doing now without having come to the makerspace and joined with people making things, talking, and solving problems.
Now, with four months under her belt as a Maker Fellow at Vector Space, Clover is nearly ready to unveil the newest stitch in her portfolio. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak into an invention of her very own! Unwrapping the details of her creation to me, Clover talked about how she’s identified a need in her line of work to prevent and mitigate carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis. I can't say much more here as this is a provisional patent at the moment but what I can say is that Clover intends to part the rows and move forward when she sees any tangle keeping her from getting her invention off the ground.
In our time together Clover spoke a lot about how coming to the makerspace changed her by empowering her professionally and therefore emotionally. It “opened my eyes to a whole new world, after you see something you can’t go back to being a regular person anymore.”
Clover says empowerment happens in ways big and small, “like when me and my daughter wanted to come here to make bags for our business. It’s just that easy to move forward, all the tools are here.” I think it’s safe to say that Clover Charles is as special to Vector Space as Vector Space is to Clover Charles.
Learn more about Clover’s one of a kind services on her website https://mynubiantresses.com/ or at Oasis Caribbean, 450c Oakley Ave (now serving seamoss infused drinks!)
This week a new group of students from Lynchburg City Schools Empowerment Academy begins their semester at Vector Space. As they embark on a new community project, we wanted to share the work of last semester's students.
Vector Space has partnered with Empowerment for several years, but that partnership, like so many other things, was interrupted during the pandemic. Each semester five students who are staying on top of their grades and have a good attendance record are selected to spend each Wednesday afternoon at the makerspace. Fall 2022 was our first semester back, and we chose Blutooth Speakers as the project. Each week we spent time getting to know students, training them on the woodshop and electronics tools, and giving them tools to express their creativity, like laser engraving and spray painting. By the end of the semester we had a collection of fully-functional, highly personalized speakers that each student took home.
Throughout the semester we learned of students' interests, goals, and previous hands-on experience. This group was particularly adept at handling power tools and being able to visualize a 3D object from a set of 2D plans. Many of them had shop class at Dunbar Middle previously, and they were gratified by the hands-on work of cutting, routing, sanding, and assembling their wooden speakers. Electronics was a new frontier for most of the students, with the exception of an attempted lamp repair by one ambitious teen, but they showed persistance and an admirable amount of competitive spirit in building the best looking and sounding speaker. As always we began with a plan that included room for following the students' lead. Their interests lead to the unplanned lessons of laser cut stencils, leather handles, programmable LED lights, a space-themed spray paint effect, 3D printed speaker accessories, and advanced wood joining techniques.
We celebrated their successful speaker build with a field trip to Blackwater Branding + Add Logo, where local recording artist Phinees motivated the students with his own story of following his passion to success. A stop into Mrs. Joy's for a cookie along with an entrepreneurial boost from another Lynchburg role model rounded out our field trip. With the semester wrapped, we are now working to connect these promising students with our local employer partners at EDM, Southern Air, and Foster Fuels for internships and post-graduation employment.