When The Student Becomes The Teacher: Ben Lockwood-Johnston

By Cathy Niland | 07.27.2022

In 2016, just before his freshman year of high school, Ben Lockwood-Johnston took his first Crucible class—Youth Blacksmithing Immersion. Over the next couple of years, he explored techniques in jewelry, glass blowing, welding, and beyond, but nothing captured his attention like swinging a hammer in the Smithy.

Ben has been exposed to art-making since day one. His mother, Mandy Lockwood, is a muralist and mixed-media artist. “We always had art in the house growing up,” he shared. “I helped my mom do a mural at my elementary school. We used to play with clay a lot, glitter on everything—I’ve eaten, slept, and breathed art since I was born.” And while Ben came to The Crucible with plenty of art-making experience under his belt, blacksmithing offered him something completely new.

ben lockwood-johnston

“When I was 14, I really liked hitting things with hammers,” shared Ben. “I was going through a tough time and I needed to get out my frustration. Blacksmithing allowed me to do that creatively. Art is therapy and blacksmithing especially so. You get the ‘I just made this’ endorphins and the exercise endorphins in one.”

Ben becomes a leader

Over the next two years, Ben continued to develop his blacksmithing skills. In 2018, one of his instructors, Celeste Flores, recommended he apply to our Fuego Youth Leadership program, an annual summer program for high school students. With a mentor’s help, participants spend four weeks building new industrial arts skills, while also supporting instructors during youth summer camp classes as paid teaching assistants.

Ben has always identified as a leader and the opportunity to build on those skills while making art felt like a no-brainer. “I would have had to be an idiot to say no! It’s getting paid to do art!” But the Fuego Youth Leadership Program wasn’t always easy. “It was tough! You go in thinking, ‘This is going to be great!’ but people don’t tell you there are going to be hard parts.” Still, Ben persevered, even when he felt like giving up, and left each summer program with a one-of-a-kind original artwork. “Fuego taught me to finish what I started, even when it’s hard.”

From mentee to mentor

Ben completed his two summers as a Fuego Youth Leader in 2019, just months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But even when our studio was closed and classes were on pause, he was determined to stay connected to the blacksmithing community. During that time, he took on his first teaching gig at Trackers Bay, and worked as an assistant to his former instructor, Celeste, in exchange for studio space. But Ben was still eager to get back to The Crucible. He officially joined our blacksmithing faculty in early 2021.

Since then, Ben has taught dozens of youth and adult workshops and classes. “Genuinely, teaching is the most rewarding job. People leave with a new skill and that’s empowering. Working with your hands completely changes the way people think. It’s about taking people from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can’.” Last summer, his Crucible journey came full circle when he became a Fuego Youth Leadership Mentor. His experience as a former Fuego has given him a unique perspective. “I understand what they’re going through, the challenges that they’re facing. I already went through it.”

What’s next for Ben?

Now, Ben is sharing what he’s learned with other blacksmiths outside The Crucible. This summer, he’s traveling to Portland, Oregon to help a friend build out their studio, lending his tools, time, and knowledge. But no matter how far Ben may travel, he always expects to find his way back to The Crucible, sharing, “I love it here. It’s one of those places that you never really leave. it’s home”

Learn more about Crucible youth empowerment programs and how you can support the next generation of makers.

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