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Around the Factory with Matthew Dempsey

April 15, 2012
By LAURA KNAUR - Sun-Gazette Correspondent , Williamsport Sun-Gazette

Matthew Dempsey, a former member of the Marine Corps, is a recent addition to the creative family in the Pajama Factory, 1307 Park Ave. Hailing from "all over the United States," but most recently from Bradford, he brings a fresh presence to the Factory with his ornate metal-workings and passion for the arts.

In Bradford, Dempsey owned a welding shop that made jewelry and he worked in an oil field. His work week ranged from 80-to120-hours-a-week, which left hardly any time for creativity.

"Working in an oil field left little time for anything else except coming home to die and hoping to get up tomorrow morning," he said.

Article Photos

LAURA KNAUR/Sun-Gazette Correspondent

He moved to Williamsport following a better job opportunity but due to a series of strange events, the job fell through.

After he found out, Dempsey said to himself, "Screw it! I'm going to get my shop back up and running, so that's why I'm here. I liked it. It's close enough to New York and some other places, so I can travel for shows."

Dempsey works in a variety of media: metalworking, drawing, photography, jewelry and air brushing, to name a few.

Dempsey is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, which is dedicated to re-creating arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe. During this time, he started carving horns and discovered the need for chisels and other tools, which were out of reach for financial reasons.

After consulting with some friends who were blacksmiths and metalworkers, he learned to create tools out of raw metal materials.

"I started out making chisels because I couldn't find them in the right sizes I needed and the ones I could find were too expensive," he said. "I taught myself how to tig weld aluminum; there's a lot of shaping and forming that goes along with that. When I decided to pick it [metalworking] up, I had already been doing it for two or three years before I started doing any blacksmithing, so I knew how the metal wanted to move, to a certain extent."

Dempsey does not refer to himself as a blacksmith because he never had the advantage of taking an apprenticeship course. He prefers to be called a "metal artist." He learned his skill from the help of friends and books that explained certain things like the appropriate temperatures to fire different metals.

Appropriately named, his studio is called "Volund's Wingtips" after the Nordic Smith-God.

"Volund was one of the few mortals who became a deity, but he's a God of crafts and small works like rings," Dempsey said. "Wings were forged out of metal by Volund to escape servitude to a king who trapped him on the island."

In the short time that Dempsey has been at the Factory, he's made great use of his space. His work can be seen decorating the floor, table tops, underneath tables and walls.

Dempsey is the newest maintenance person at the Factory. There is a lot of work that needs to be done, he said.

"I really like the Pajama Factory because I had been trying to put something like that together myself without the funding," he said. "Being able to consult with other artists is very appealing. I really like what's going on here and there is enough of an artist and entertainment section in town to create a lot of potential."

Dempsey likes the age and build of the Factory, even though, he said, some parts of it are a mess.

"It was build over 100 years ago and the damn thing is solid," he said. "Structurally, I like it and it makes for good studio spaces and it's got a pretty good location."

Throughout the interview, he explained that most of his metal comes from scrap and found metal that he gathered from around the Factory. For one piece he is working on, a fire box, he uses the sheet metal from one of the elevators in the building that is being repaired.

Several of the knives he had been forging come from lawnmower blades he found at a friend's house.

He said, "Metal is nice because being able to shape it, you can turn it into whatever you want to - for the most part."

When asked about First Fridays, Dempsey said, "I love First Fridays!"

He wants to go beyond events during First Friday and create other events throughout the month for creative minds to get together.

Dempsey discovered the Factory through former tenant and current co-owner of the Grey Art Gallery, Casey Gleghorn.

"We got to talking and he mentioned that the Pajama Factory existed," Dempsey said.

Currently, Dempsey is talking with a professor who teaches metallurgy at Penn College regarding the potential for students to take a class with Dempsey in his studio.

"That's the goal," he said "I'm going to do classes for children, which I like doing."

During April's First Friday at the Factory, he instructed children in making art using soda cans and a stylus.

Ultimately, he would like to reach out to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to teach them how to, for example, make a knife.

He said, "Ideally, they are interested in this sort of thing."

For more information, call Dempsey at 989-415-8859.



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