U.S. Holiday Tradition has CWI Flair

Published: November 29, 2016

An Idaho inspired, one-of-a-kind work of art is in Washington D.C. for the holidays thanks to a partnership forged between a pair of Treasure Valley organizations. In December the Capitol Christmas Tree will stand outside the United States Capitol Building, accompanied by a custom steel display. The artwork helps tell the tree’s story and represents the collective effort made to send the perfect Christmas tree from McCall, Idaho to the nation’s capital.

The display was created by students at Centennial Job Corps in Nampa and faculty with College of Western Idaho’s (CWI) Welding and Metals Fabrication program. Logistics of the project brought the two groups together and it proved to be a beautiful collaboration.

“We didn’t have all the machinery or skills to execute the project,” explains Job Corps’ Kris Johnson. “I knew that CWI has both. So, I made contact with [CWI Welding Program Chair] Mike Wheeler and the rest is history.”

Job Corps was originally approached by Payette National Forest staff to produce the display, offering a valuable learning experience for students. The opportunity was too important for Johnson to pass up, leading him to contact Wheeler. CWI’s faculty jumped at the chance to take lead on designing the elements of the display and cut all of the metal pieces in the CWI Welding labs.

“Anytime we can donate our time to either help out in the community or bring notoriety to our program and the trade of welding and metals fabrication, I get a great deal of satisfaction out of that,” says Wheeler. 

Once complete, Johnson’s students welded the individual elements together and added finishing effects, like sanding, polishing, and coloring.

“The experience for the (Job Corps) students was huge,” Johnson says. “This is technology that we don’t have but that they should all be aware of and have some idea of how it works.”

CWI faculty used the Capitol Christmas Tree’s official logo, commissioned by Idaho artist Ward Hooper, for direction. Wheeler says the project was tedious and presented plenty of challenges along the way. It required drawing the display in computer drafting software and then precisely cut the metal pieces, both true to design as well as structurally sound. All of the work was well worth it, however, knowing where the artwork is now standing.

“The fact that this piece traveled the country and ended up in Washington D.C. means a lot,” says Wheeler. “I hope it gets people excited about the welding trade, thinking about welding in a different light, and maybe inspires them to create something of their own.”

In addition to the display, CWI’s Welding faculty created 30 table-top metal Christmas trees, which will also be on display at the lighting ceremony on Dec. 6. The tree will be lit from nightfall until 11 p.m. each evening through Dec. 25.

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