Educator Profile- Mark Eichinger-Wiese
I was tempted to write my next faculty profile on Mr. Mark E-W while I was taking his adult blacksmithing class this fall. It was a contest of man against steel, and steel won. My hook with the twisting stem and leafy top was a pale imitation of what the master produces, sort of like a shadow on the back of Plato’s cave wall compared to the Ideal form of the hook. Nevertheless, I felt the effect of the mallets, tongs, flames, and anvils on my imagination as well as my muscles, and I got a taste of what students might absorb after a few hours with Mr. E-W.
Mr. E-Ws story starts with his paternal grandfather, who was born toward the end of the 19th century. In 1906 he emigrated to America from the Germanic section of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (now Romania). A young man, he paid for his passage by shoeing horses. Like many immigrants, he moved to the US to support his family in the old country. He found work at a livery stable in New York City and ultimately owned his own smithy in New Jersey. As a young grandson, Mr. E-W rode the double bellows in the forge and banged on horseshoes with a little hammer. “I remember people from our neighborhood coming to Pop’s shop to watch him work. This was a gathering place for the community. People were drawn by the fire and metal, by history and rhythm, and by my grandfather’s presence. When he closed his shop, his forge and tools were moved to a museum in New England. When I smell coal burning I am instantly in his smithy.”
Mr. E-W graduated from Colorado State with a major in technical journalism. This led to a peripatetic series of jobs: a technical director at a television station, a photographer in the communications office at Colorado State, a location manager in Hollywood, a visiting professor of graphic design at Montana State, and as a training manager in the Eugene, Oregon, sheriff’s office. It was at the law enforcement position that he suffered a serious injury. “I’ve had to overcome some physical challenges,” he says, remembering his time in Eugene. “I suffer from chronic pain due to a nerve stretch injury I sustained 26 years ago. I also endure stenosis and have had several surgeries to try to improve my condition.” But he is not one to dwell on himself. He jokes, “at times, these issues can seem minor compared to the resistance from a few teenagers who do not want to participate. I know from experience that once they engage, they will be transformed.”
When Mr. E-W retired from law enforcement, he chose to commit himself to a series of non-profit enterprises. He served on the board of directors of a large blood bank, Seattle’s Episcopal Cathedral, ROC Wheels (an organization that distributed wheelchairs to children with critical needs internationally), and the Eugene Middle East Peace Group (composed of Israelis and Palestinians). His list of social justice causes is inspirational: civil rights, Vietnam War protests, American Indian rights, farm workers, and Palestinian justice.
When his wife, Andrea, was hired to teach Kindergarten at Emerson Waldorf in 2014, Mr. E-W moved his family from Oregon to North Carolina. He immediately began helping Peter Moyers in the woodshop. “On the first day of school four years ago,” recalls Mr. Moyers, “when Andrea started in the Kindergarten, Mark walked into the Woodshop and said, ‘would you like help with anything?’ Since then Mark has helped transform not only my life at Emerson but also the Practical Arts program. With no exaggeration, I could not be doing what I'm doing if it were not for Mark. He works side by side with me on Woodwork projects, coppersmithing, and in the High School plays that I was invited to direct last year. I could not do the plays without Mark.”
Mr. Moyers introduced his new colleague to the Director, who asked Mr. E-W to build a smithy (blacksmithing in those days was taught off campus). The space the smithy occupies used to be a wood drying storage shed that he retro-fitted with forges, anvils and other tools of the trade. Some of the tools he bought at an auction house, where he worked during college. Other tools are treasured pieces from his grandfather’s forge, and more have been donated. The enterprise was funded, Mr. Moyers recalls, by the money he raised by holding adult evening blacksmith classes.
Mr. E-W volunteers his blacksmithing expertise. He teaches 3rd graders to make nails, as part of their housing construction block. Mainly, however, he teaches high school students. “I help bring out the will,” he explains. “Inspiring students to take interest in fire and metal helps them come into their will forces. As adolescents encounter the world, their experience can be overwhelming. Remembering their first seven years, they have a picture of life as wonderful. During puberty, the world can seem disappointing, unjust, frustrating, and dysfunctional. Teens can direct their dissatisfaction towards adults, blaming them for the state of things. Adolescents can become selfish, denying and despairing. As a teacher, it’s my mission to help them develop a broader view, to widen their experience of feeling and thinking so they can direct their will with purpose, resulting in sensible optimism, resilience and courage. Most projects require careful cooperation. Crafting useful objects with care, strength and love creates joy in our students and fills them with a sense of accomplishment and pride.”
The student experience of blacksmithing brings them into contact with many historical moments they have encountered in the grades. Physics, math, chemistry, and art are all experienced in the smithy as well. It is a place that invites them to combine function and beauty. But on a deeper level is builds confidence and inner strength, which underwrites success in academic subjects. “Parents can be nervous about investing in something that doesn’t always seem to impact academics,” Mr. E-W muses, “but once they see how their children approach their studies with new confidence and inquiry they, too, understand and support blacksmithing at school.”
Mr. E-W teaches by story. “A teacher can simply demonstrate, but a student will more easily remember and equate the demonstration with a story. If I say ‘correct your hammer swing,’ the student will look puzzled. But if I say ‘remember the smith with the hairy ears’ they instantly correct their hammer swing.”
Mr. E-W’s volunteer work at Emerson extends well beyond the forge. He has produced works of stunning beauty that have been auctioned at our Galas. He worked diligently for a full term on the board. According to board chair Mark Hulbert, “Mark’s wisdom is exceeded only by his unfailing willingness to help out where needed. In addition to a three-year term on our Board of Directors, Mark served as chair of the Development Committee and as a member of the search committee for two different administrators.” He is also currently co-chair of the Waldorf 100 committee, which is planning a number of events to commemorate the centenary of Waldorf education and to make our school more visible. And he is a key member of our new farm committee, which is committed to transforming our beautiful acreage to a sustainable landscape that will become part of the curriculum for teachers from Early Childhood to the High School. His presence is felt in every corner of the school.