Welding is a skill that requires a certain amount of bravery.
“Sometimes people will come and they have fire trauma,” says Ceri Jones. “And it's a crazy thing to weld if you have fire trauma. I’ve watched people move through it.”
Jones is the owner of The Collaboratory at 526 East University Drive in east Mesa, an art design studio and "creative laboratory" that offers classes on welding, but also blacksmithing, cut-and-grind knife-making, and plasma cutting.
Jones, who was born and raised in Wales, is no stranger to trauma; she started The Collaboratory with her husband, Khabir Salahadyn, who she later lost to cancer.
They met in Colorado in 2005, not long after she quit her job as a corporate executive. She'd always been passionate about art, but had been told it was a career in which few earned a living.
Despite this, she and Salahadyn, a steel and metal artist, opened the first iteration of The Collaboratory in Denver.
“We found this old fire station that had recently been vacated,” Jones says. “We moved upstairs and kept the shop on the ground level, which was a really cool thing.”
Jones and Salahadyn married and, as Jones says, “trudged” at their business. Three years later, Salahadyn was diagnosed with stage four liver cancer. When a family friend offered help at her naturopathic clinic in Arizona, they moved.
“We packed up that big truck, shut our studio, put everything in storage and came down here with two suitcases of clothing each. The rest was full of tools.”
Using a promotion, Jones and Salahadyn sold 110 welding classes and moved their business into an acquaintance’s garage.
“He taught the very first class in complete liver failure,” Jones says. “Seven days later, he died, and so I was kind of stuck here for lots of different reasons.”
Jones still had 100 welding classes to teach. “The people who let us use the garage had invited me to convalesce in their basement. So I could just get up once a week and teach class.”
Jones kept teaching and improving her own welding and eventually became a plasma-cutting artist as well. She won first place in metal in the 2019 Sedona Annual Art Show and sold a selection of her lighting fixtures to the Kimpton Boutique Hotel in Bozeman, Montana.
"The one thing I realized about this place very early on was, how am I going to advertise a welding class?" Jones says. "The conventional side of me said to network, knock on doors, and my spirit was saying to paint."
So Jones only focuses on work instead of advertising. She said her strategy is to be a lighthouse, a sort of 'if you build it, they will come,' belief that's been working so far.
The Collaboratory attracted Jeanine Tripodi, who's been a student of Jones' for more than four years.
"I went to a group class the first time," Tripodi says, adding that it was with four children to build a Christmas tree topper. "Before I left, I knew I wanted to work one-on-one with her."
Tripodi has now bought her own welding equipment and a plasma cutter, which she uses to build tables and "just fun art stuff."
The Collaboratory has grown and now offers cut-and-grind knife making and blacksmithing classes. Noah Nipperus runs the blacksmith area, "Noah's Ark," and they've seen an increase in teenage attendance, especially since COVID-19.
And there's more coming. In March, The Collaboratory will offer 3-D printing classes led by expert Rei Cameron. A former employee of Create at the Arizona Science Center, Cameron through Maker Comet offers hands-on creative lesson plans and workshops.
"It's become a hot topic," Cameron says. "3-D printing is not a new technology, but people now can buy affordable printers."
Cameron will teach a 90-minute introductory course and a three-hour course. Students will be asked to bring their laptops so they can download the printing programs and work at home if they wish.
"[It's] an honor for me to work with [Jones] in designing these classes," Cameron says.
The Collaboratory is located at 526 East University Drive, Mesa. Learn more on the center's website.