By Maria Allen
Metal artist Karen Sullivan is the founder of Woman And Machine (WAM), a Plympton-based trade school that teaches women (and men) the art of welding. When Sullivan first launched her business in 2018, she was working with several other women to hold single-day welding and automotive workshops all around the United States. She is now focused solely on teaching students at her Plympton workshop.
What inspired you to start your business?
I have always wanted to help more women get into the trades, either via my original route, which was through a women’s automotive magazine, to the more hands-on approach with Woman And Machine where I teach basic skills for automotive, welding and fabrication. Prior to establishing Woman And Machine, I had been laid off from a local car dealership and then I became pregnant with my daughter. My husband and I decided that I would be a stay-at-home mom, but I always have to be doing something so I took to the garage and started working on our current “project” vehicles while my daughter Charlotte was napping or after she went to bed at night. The idea of teaching came at a later date when I had some other ladies ask if I would teach them how to weld. I had already been looking at going back to school to get a teaching degree and I knew how to weld, so I tried it out and fell in love with it.
How did you learn welding?
I was trained by my husband who has been welding since he was 14 years old. He has worked in numerous shops and holds numerous welding certificates. Currently he is a pipefitter/welder in the Local 537 and he has been internationally awarded for his welding skills. Lincoln Electric, a large welding manufacturing company, heard what I was trying to do and stepped forward to offer their support and send me to school at their location in Ohio.
How often do you offer your 6-week welding program?
I offer a 6 week program every fall for beginners and every spring I host an intermediate course.
Are you still doing the vehicle maintenance classes?
I still do vehicle maintenance classes, just not as much as my welding classes. I enjoy teaching these classes because I feel everyone should know more about their vehicles, such as where the spare tire is, what it takes to change a tire, and what’s under the hood, etc. We spend a lot of money on our vehicles and we also spend a lot of time in our vehicles so it makes sense to want to know more about them.
What do you love most about working with metal and teaching?
I love that I can manipulate this material with heat and turn it into something recognizable using objects I’ve found in scrap piles, from silverware and horseshoes to car parts. My favorite part of teaching is when I get to share my knowledge with students and they see just how amazing welding is. The excitement is contagious. Watching my students move into a more creative mindset and begin to build confidence in their skills is very rewarding.
Six Week Welding Program (Wednesday evenings September 21 - October 26): This introductory Metal Inert Gas (MIG) welding course will cover safety, setting the welder appropriately, the basics of fabrication, small weld projects, etc.
Pumpkin Class (October 11): A three hour metal art course that leads students through the steps for making a metal pumpkin out of found objects.
Intro to Metal Art (October 15,16): A two-day introduction to metal art course. Participants will be exposed to numerous metal working tools and make their own piece of art on day two.