While working to repair and maintain the Statue of Liberty, Dennis Heaphy knows that he is preserving history.
In addition to the 62,000 pounds of copper that make up the 300-foot-tall monument, he is also preserving a proud history of tradesmen who helped build this great country. Heaphy, the resident tinsmith for the Statue of Liberty, recently came to Allegany County to celebrate how the region and Alfred State build interest in the craft and trades for the next generation.
Heaphy set up shop at the recent Allegany County Fair to tell his story that started when his great-grandfather opened a metal shop in Syracuse 124 years ago. Sharing his skills and talking with local residents about the need for young people to learn trades with hands-on education proved inspirational.
“My work on the Statue of Liberty is a grand achievement for me, but I was inspired and invigorated by the pride people expressed when they reflected on works of their relatives,” said Heaphy. “The spirit of a community is deeply intertwined with its craftsmen, they are at the heart of the arts and the character of that community, and the trades of today have their roots in the trades of the past.”
Since 1966, Wellsville has been home to Alfred State’s School of Applied Technology. Located on the site of the former Sinclair Oil Refinery, Alfred State’s campus is keeping a proud tradition of tradesmen alive, as each fall a new class of students arrive to learn skills that are not only passed down through the generations, but also evolve to meet the demands of today’s industry. The Allegany County Economic Development staff hope that Heaphy’s visit will be the first in a series of tradesmen who come to demonstrate their craft and generate more interest in education for the trades.
“Our campus in Wellsville is preparing for a big celebration to commemorate 50 years,” said Dean of the School of Applied Technology Ana McClanahan. “We will be inviting the community to join us on Homecoming/Family Weekend for a celebration on Oct. 14. We have a ton of history to celebrate, but also to cheer for what’s new and still developing on our vibrant campus.”
Heaphy’s partner, Anna Dobkowski, is actually an Alfred State alum, having graduated in 1976 with an architectural engineering technology degree. His connections to the college go even deeper, however.
“Not only did Anna graduate from Alfred State, but so did my uncle and many friends, and many friends of friends, and I am proud to say that my nephew will be attending in the fall,” Heaphy said. “Allegany County is the perfect atmosphere to nurture a culture of craftsmen who could find fertile ground to teach and learn the trades that have made us who we are.”
Employers often lament about the need for more young people to learn the trades and the open jobs waiting for skilled workers. Heaphy sees the need for continuing to teach the hands-on skills needed for trades and crafts as a way to prevent the extinction of a long proud tradition.
“When we look at a structure, a piece of furniture, or myriad other works of craft, we hear those voices telling their stories,” he said. “But like a dying language, once there are no more native speakers, it becomes the whisper of myth. I have labored most of my life to keep these languages alive so future craftsmen can understand those messages.”