25 Years with Don Myhre

MCAD 3D Shop Director Don Myhre has been a steadfast source of leadership and knowledge for the college over the past twenty-five years, offering his expertise and joy in making to students, staff, and faculty in the 3D Shop and beyond.

I got to sit down with him and talk about what he's enjoyed most about being here at MCAD, his artistic practice, and the future of the 3D Shop

MCAD President Jay Coogan (left) presented 3D Shop Director Don Myhre (right) with an award celebrating his twenty-five years at the college.


Hey Don! So, what do you do as the director of the 3D shop?

It entails overseeing all the facilities within the 3D shop, working with the full-time staff members, and guiding students, faculty, and other shop users in the safe operation of all tools and processes here.

Do you teach classes as well?

I do! I’m sort of a hybrid here; over the past twenty-five years I’ve taught classes, run the shop, and I was also co-chair of the fine arts department for a blip of time.

What has it been like, holding all those different positions?

I started in 1992. I was just a replacement hire in the shop, just a technician, and I thought it was really cool in the shop. And then I got hired full time, then shortly after that I was hired as director of the 3D shop. I’d always wanted to teach as well, so I started teaching night classes, bronze casting, digital fabrications, and then 3D foundation classes. I'm also now a mentor for MFA students. I have done a bunch of different things that have given me, I think, a good spectrum of experiences here at MCAD.

I really like the broad base of opportunities and responsibilities. I get to see little snippets of parts of the campus that maybe I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t part of the grad program, or wasn’t part of MCAD Continuing Education. It informs me pretty well of what’s happening, and I get to see more faces too.

What is your favorite part of teaching all these classes?

It’s of course the students. They’re funny, and smart, and they sometimes make me feel old, but also I can kind of keep up with what they’re interested in because I find out surreptitiously what’s going on in their lives and that’s always remarkable to me, to see what’s happening. I always find it amazing the amount of commitment that students have. I admire that. They show great focus. Sometimes I see that they have tunnel vision too, like, “my project, my project, my project.” They see this very clear path in front of them, and part of my job is to move things out of the way so they can get the projects done safely and accurately. Then maybe show them something that’s unique and different that they might not have encountered otherwise.

Another thing I like here is that I always learn something from the students. They'll say, “Have you seen this new program?” or, “I tried this and look what happened!” From my staff, too, they’re up on things all the time. So I’m working with them to see what's the latest and greatest and what they’re on working on. My staff are very funny, whip smart, and really enjoy working with the students. We have a set designer, a sculptor, a furniture designer, and we all mix pretty well. I love that they have these outside interests that they’re geeking out on that they love to show students. I also like that our students are trusting of us and receptive to information that we impart on them and that they’re willing to play. If we give them some guidance, I also like that they’re a little suspicious of it, too, that they’ve got to find out exactly how it relates to what they’re working on. Then they try it and oftentimes they report back and are like, “Hey, it worked!” or, “It worked, but I tried this and it worked better this way!” A lot of times we’re nosy and we’ll ask them how their critique went, how did this work, have you seen this artist, make sure you go to Mia and see this show because it’s connected to your work. I like that part, it’s a lot more than just watching table saws and handing out tools.

Hopefully we’ve created an atmosphere in here that the students feel ownership of the shop space—that they know they can come in and get their work done and not be encumbered by, “Oh that person’s there, maybe I shouldn’t be there.”

How are students today different from the students you had in the past?

They’re very similar, very dedicated, very focused, eager. I think perhaps twenty years ago students maybe had some high school experience in a shop. I’ve noticed over the years that those things have changed from metal or wood shop to more of a science-based thing where they’re doing 3D printing or something a little more digitally focused.

In general I think students still have that fire when they come in here; they’re very excited and they are ready to go with all the tools that are available to them. I think it’s kind of interesting to see that carry through over twenty-plus years. I love seeing students again that I haven't seen for fifteen years and they go, “Oh my gosh, you’re still here! You look the same except you have white hair! What happened?” We had a student come in recently who graduated fifteen years ago and they came in and were like, “Wow, the shop’s totally different, but you’re still here!” I love that.

Sometimes, it’s embarrassing, but I’ll encounter a student who remembers me but I, at the time, don’t remember them. But then I remember them! Sometimes it just takes a little bit. I’m getting older and memory changes.

How has 3D changed over the years here at MCAD?

I think the digital component is huge. We got our first piece of digital equipment in 2000. It was a little tiny router that could carve something out of foam, and it was very interesting, in fact my parents brought it up from Fargo and installed it here. And then we got a grant to purchase substantial equipment. So we bought a 3D printer, laser cutter, the CNC, and other tools like the laser scanner. When we bought all this in 2001, it was really seen as a sort of novelty. There was no curriculum at the time that tied to it yet, and students were really suspicious of it. Like, “What is this going to replace? Are we still going to be able to use the analog equipment?” It was wobbly ground at that point. But the students really led the way. I think it landed in a place that’s authentic to MCAD and our students in that it's supplementing everything else they do here. If they’re a furniture designer they’re gonna use digital equipment but they’re still going to learn to use analog stuff. Filmmakers, animators, photographers, we see them come down here and use the digital equipment. And they still have their own craft that they’re using in tandem with this. I think it’s totally legit that our students are using it that way, and I like seeing students discover the digital stuff too. Like when they see a 3D print for the time and it’s really cool, and it has them by the nose a little bit. But then they begin to understand the technology, and then they look for how it really plays into their work and their interests. And to me that’s interesting.

You’re an artist as well as a teacher, correct?

I am. I think I’m a fairly traditional sculptor. I’m interested in a lot of different processes, bronze casting is one of the big ones. It’s been a part of my practice ever since I was in high school. So I teach casting, I did a number of pieces in bronze casting this year. Lately my work has been 3D laser scanning of historical spaces. So I did a couple spaces recently, Fort Snelling, which is just by the river here. It has a bunch of historical buildings that were officers' quarters, and they look like they’re ready to fall down. So I work with them to laser scan those buildings and I made some sculptures based on the data that was collected. I did an old theater in Staples, Minnesota, that was an opera house from the turn of the century. It's an amazing, sort of forgotten old theater, and I had to convince the owners that I was not being harmful to the space. It doesn't always help to say, “I’m an artist.” But they were interested in the education aspect of it and that maybe students could see it too. Fascinating space. We also laser scanned an abandoned insane asylum in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Terrifying place. It’s huge—as big as the Pentagon. It’s turn of the century, it’s mothballed, it's beautiful and scary, and I got access to laser scan parts of the building. That data I used to make 3D models or CNC replicas of the things that were there and build sculptures based on stories that I’ve heard there. It’s fun to climb through the data; it’s rich. It’s like going to photograph the space and picking through the images afterwards and finding something good. That’s what I’m doing right now and I’m totally enamored with it. 

What’s the process of laser scanning a space?

It’s a scanner about 2' x 2' x 18" that sits on a huge tripod and sweeps a beam through a space, capturing an envelope of about 1000' x 1000' x 1000'. In that data, it has the capacity to capture detail about a millimeter thick. So it gives you this huge point cloud of whatever space it’s sitting in, and the point cloud is just a bunch of dots in a pattern that looks like the object. Then I can isolate those shapes and print them on our 3D printer, or cut them out on the CNC. It’s like taking a photograph and then you can turn the photograph and go through the door. And then you can extricate something from the photograph and print it in 3D dimensions. This is something I could probably do for years, I’m so interested in it.

Do you have any favorite memories at MCAD?

We had a student that put on a full fashion show in the shop. It was amazing. It was for the last student to graduate from our old fashion design major, and she said, “The shop is perfect for a runway.” And we were like sure! So we moved stuff out of the way, and she brought in a professional runway and it ran from the table saws all the way to the foundry area. There were curtains up, and a professional runway, and she had people doing makeup and hair. I just came to work like I do every morning, and there was a runway in the middle of the shop. There were people walking on the runway and getting dressed in fancy clothes. It was an amazing event. She staged this whole thing and had all these models that hung out back here by the tables, and then went on the runway. She had people filming it, and great music, great lighting; it was really professional. All within the shop space. We asked her, “Should we sweep the floor?” And she was like,” No! That’s part of the ambience!” It was a really fun event that we did years ago.

Do you see anything new and exciting happening in the 3D Shop in the future?

The product design program that’s coming. We’re really excited about that. I know the shop is going to be a big part of it. I'm really excited to see how it's going to change the shop and the school, how it's going to blossom into something else. Maybe a new group of students that wouldn't have been down to the shop before will now come down and this will become their home base. I love that, I love seeing students that come in and they didn't even know this was here. I love seeing that something is interesting to them too, maybe it’s the laser cutter, or one of the 3D printers, or the CNC. Something that kind of refocuses their attention to skills that they’ve learned how to do in a foundations class and were maybe dormant, and now they’re back again and useful for something else.