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by Jessica Brophy
Teacher, artist, activist, environmentalist, mentor and friend—all words used to describe J. Fred Woell at an informal celebration in his honor on Monday, September 10, at the Penobscot East Resource Center.
Area residents may recognize Woell’s name if they do not recognize his face or his work as a metalsmith. Woell, a member of Island Peace and Justice and an outspoken activist, has penned many letters to the editor. He also taught metalsmithing at Haystack, among many other places.
The gathering, organized by fellow IPJ member Dud Hendrick, was spurred by a lifetime achievement award granted to Woell by the Society of North American Goldsmiths in May.
“We wanted to celebrate and recognize the level of Fred’s achievement,” said Hendrick before Woell’s arrival at the surprise celebration.
Woell’s career as an artist, spanning more than 50 years, includes many years of teaching and innovation in the world of jewelry and metalsmithing, according to SNAG’s website. SNAG credits Woell as “being the first in the field to work with cast found objects and found objects in his metalwork for political and social commentary.”
Some of Woell’s work is housed in permanent collections across the country, including the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian, according to the SNAG website.
Woell, who was surprised by the gathering, thanked everyone for attending.
Several of the more than 30 people in attendance spoke about Woell’s friendship, art, and mentorship.
“What I have always admired about you is that you have always used your own voice,” said fellow artist Vaino Kola. “You’re not a trendy guy.”
Sarah Doremus, also a metalsmith, called Woell a “true mentor.” A few attendees praised Woell’s approach as a teacher.
“The art of teaching is a mystery to me,” said Woell, who went on to say that he prefers to free students from expectations than grade them on assignments. “When people relax, they can get something done creatively,” he said.
Hendrick praised Woell’s activism and participation in IPJ. “You’ve written about social justice, stood against militarism and shown an abiding love for the earth,” said Hendrick.
Currently, Woell is the subject of an in-process film for the Maine Masters Project. The project includes a series of profiles of “some of Maine’s most distinguished and often less recognized visual artists.” The project began in 1999 and there are 11 completed films on “Maine Masters.” For more information about the Maine Masters Project, visit mainemasters.com.