What does STEM have to do with art?
STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – so you may be thinking, what does STEM have to do with art? The Iowa STEM Teacher Externships is an initiative of the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council that creates tactile STEM learning opportunities for teachers. Creative Edge had the rewarding experience of participating in the program last year thanks to a curious art teacher.
The purpose of the program is to give educators real-world experiences, prepare students for STEM careers, and generally improve educational experiences. The 6-week summer program pairs Iowa high school teachers of math, science, and/or technology with local businesses. The program began in 2009. In 2023, David Kraemer from Fairfield High School became the first art teacher to participate, thanks to a partnership with Creative Edge.
Go for it and reap the rewards
Kraemer’s desire for life-long learning and his curiosity about the work of companies like Creative Edge motivated him to apply for the Iowa STEM externship. The 3-graduate credits and summer stipend he would receive were also appealing. Even though his art background was non-traditional compared to previously successful applicants, Kraemer decided to go for it.
“I approached Nate Weaton to talk about how we could partner to bring new knowledge to students. Nate loved the idea and was supportive from day one.” As CEO of Creative Edge and its parent company Weaton Companies, Weaton appreciated the opportunity to get his team involved in living his company’s values. “Enabling teachers and students to excel is central to our commitment to support the local community. We enthusiastically accepted David’s proposal and we are so proud of the outcome of our partnership.” said Weaton.
Defining the creative challenge
For the next several weeks, Kraemer would work with nearly every person on the Weaton team to design and produce a custom art installation. The finished 10.5’ x 4.5’ wall art is now on display at Weaton Companies’ office in Fairfield, Iowa. To get things started, the Weaton team shared design goals. Kraemer’s design must:
Incorporate as many of the company’s manufacturing materials as possible; stone, tile, terrazzo, metal, vinyl, carpet, and/or industrial foam
Represent the work of Weaton Companies’ brands; Creative Edge, ToolKeepers, and US Waterjet
Highlight waterjet technology as a key element of the company’s manufacturing process
Celebrate Weaton Companies employees and the local community
Teaching the teacher
Then the learning began. Kraemer was exposed to new technology including graphic design software and the magic of waterjet cutting technology. As a painter and sculptor, he explored new ways of working with familiar stone and metal surfaces. As a student embarking on an innovative assignment, he got to play with architectural tile and vinyl and industrial foam as new artistic mediums.
Perhaps the most important thing he learned was how to listen to his “client”, interpret their direction, and produce a design that achieved their goals. This real-world, business-centric experience was very different from his fine art training. According to Kraemer “working to understand the client’s design vision and communication goals was an unfamiliar challenge. It has helped me re-think where artistic inspiration can come from and has expanded how I position the role of design and artistic pursuit with my students. Art can be about personal expression, and it can also be a tool for business communication.”
Creativity comes to life in marble, stone, metal, and more
Once his design was approved, Kraemer took full advantage of his access to Creative Edge equipment, materials, and people. He hand-selected materials for each element of the design and worked with the Creative Edge team to convert his design to CAD drawings and cut each individual piece, some as small as 1/16” x 3/8”. Stone, marble, and metal were cut on waterjet machines using abrasive, and industrial foam was cut without abrasive additives. Creative Edge technicians followed David’s direction to reproduce the full design flawlessly.
Hundreds of individual pieces were then pre-assembled - upside down - according to Kraemer’s layout. Adhesive and grout were applied to attach the design to a wood backing. Hanging hardware on the back of the two-piece work allows it to hang on a prominent wall in the Weaton Companies corporate office.
Kraemer had this to say about the production process “I observed every step of the process and helped out with the detailed assembly work. I admire the Creative Edge team’s attention to detail and their willingness to try anything I suggested. There’s really nothing they can’t do. It was a great experience to work alongside these talented engineers and artisans.”
Designing a bright future for students
Back at school after his Creative Edge experience, Kraemer introduced students to new design technology and developed a project-based curriculum that teaches about the role of design skills and design thinking in business. “For years, I’ve introduced students to graphic design and commercial art with a project that includes designing a logo. The new assignment includes researching the company to help the student designer understand how business goals can impact design decisions. The expanded project scope now asks the kids to create interior graphics, exterior signage, and other creative ways to tell the story of a brand using whatever medium makes sense.
The outcome has been students who are more engaged in their project work and intrigued by careers that involve technology and design. They are also very curious about interesting companies like Creative Edge located right in their hometown. Reflecting on the classroom impact of his externship, Kraemer concluded “The kids couldn’t believe that Creative Edge – based right here in Fairfield - produces amazing architectural surfaces that are installed all over the world. Being part of the externship program has rejuvenated my passion for teaching and for art in all its forms. I’m very grateful for the opportunity.”
Connection creates stronger communities
Creative Edge is grateful as well for the opportunity to host Mr. Kraemer. We now have a piece of art that inspires our employees and customers with a visual story of our brand. More importantly, we’ve played a small role in inspiring local students who have an interest in art to pursue careers in design and even the kind of specialty manufacturing we do here at Creative Edge.
David Kraemer’s mural was unveiled last month at a reception in our office. Kramer was the guest of honor and attendees included the Director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority and the Iowa Finance Authority, Debi Durham, Fairfield High School Principal, Aiddy Phomvisay, and other dignitaries. It was a pleasure to get together with our community and great to have our honorary employee, Mr. Kraemer, back in the office for the day.
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