Alumni Stories: “Where Are They Now?”

Edition 32 — Will Lutz, Machinist

“A Sense of Who I Am”

Will Lutz enjoys the precision and process of machining.

“People find me calming to talk to. I‘m not sure why.”

It’s probably because of how Will carefully fashions his sentences. He selects words with attentive precision as he recounts the complexities of his time during and after his experience working at Artists For Humanity. Will likes accuracy, process, and analysis, which explains his thoughtful demeanor and his current career.

“I went back to school for an associate’s degree in Precision Machining. It was good for a person like me, as I have always tried to achieve some perfect form or geometry, but only have my hands to work with.”

The Digital Fabrication Lab, where Will helps researchers apply their ideas to the machinery and equipment (Photo by Will Lutz).

After working as a machinist for four years, in 2018 Will began working at MIT’s International Design Center as an Assistant Shop Manager.

“At MIT, I primarily helped students and research staff navigate the Digital Fabrication Lab, which included 3D printers, laser cutters, traditional and modern metal and woodshop tools.”

After almost three years at MIT, Will now works as an R&D machinist at Formlabs, an industry leader in 3D printing technology and products.

Using manual and CNC machine tools, Will makes prototype parts to assist in developing various consumer and industrial products. He is also an in-house source of knowledge on various precision manufacturing processes.

Will’s workspace at Formlabs

Hearing about Will’s work in such detail, I began to wonder what he was like as a kid.

“I almost didn’t remember because it feels like a long time ago. But I liked to draw and paint when I was younger. I liked to work with clay and Sculpey, really tactile stuff. I liked to play with dominos and Legos. I always liked doing something with my hands.”

Even now Will continues to recognize the correlations between his interests as a child and his intrigue in machinery as an adult. He admits that his decision to try machining was long overdue, “It was probably the first time I took an honest to god assessment of my likes and dislikes.”

Will Lutz (2022)

The lack of creative subjects in high school further exacerbated the uncertainties of his teenage years. Will struggled as many young adults do in environments that fail to engage them.

“Life was an emotionally wrenching experience for me at the time and it just happened to take place during high school. It was an internal condition that happened to fall into the surroundings that it did.”

“I was rebellious in some ways, but mostly I just didn’t want to be there. At the same time, you could engage me. I could be engaged with the right subject matter and it might just be something creative.”

Will tells me how he has always gravitated towards the “fringes of normal” but his explanation is initially lost on me and he laughs a little sheepishly. His meaning becomes apparent when he describes what attracted him to the unpolished character of AFH when he first joined in 1996.

“There was paint splattered everywhere… Everybody had left their mark there.”

“It was like a clubhouse. There was paint splattered everywhere. It was someplace that looked like you shouldn’t be there, other than the fact that it had this real warmth to it because of what people had put in there, easels and stuff like that. Everybody had left their mark there.”

“It felt undeniably different. I can imagine myself asking, ‘What are adults doing here? Are there grownups here or is it a place where us kids come to mess around and have fun?’”

Teens at AFH in its first decade

Between school and home, AFH serves as the rare space teenagers can construct as their own because adults take on a mentorship role, rather than instructors or rule-enforcers—it’s a job.

Grown-ups are both mythical and genuine in Will’s accounts, a testament to his story-telling and their actual exceptional nature.

“The first person I met was SWAT. Probably unbeknownst to him, he’s like a magical person. He has like energy swirling around him and built this place just as much as anyone else did. I can remember how Jason commands a room and how he relates to people, how he talks to people.”

Jason Talbot aka SWAT, Co-Founder (left) and Warren Fitzgerald, 3D Mentor (right).

“Warren Fitzgerald was a miracle worker behind the scenes. He worked in the woodshop and somehow managed to produce all these things: painting panels, furniture, whatever. He was as eccentric as they come. I’ve never seen a greater clash than a bunch of rowdy intercity kids and this guy who smokes a pipe and listens to opera constantly. But he’s also an old goth dude who had secrets.”

“Later on, I was captivated by this guy, Matt Anderson in screen printing. I was getting into punk music at the time and Matt was an older punk guy and he knew how to print band t-shirts. Matt was the guy, like I want to be that guy. He was terse and sarcastic, but also really big brotherly too.”

Will believes the characters at AFH are more legendary for their dedication to the teens than their quirkiness.

“These are people who, every day, had kids crawling all over them. They were tireless in their singular message and intent of being there for those who need somebody. You can idolize them and feel this adult sense of comfort and safety when you’re with them.”

Will always felt included in a greater community at AFH, unlike at high school which separates kids into cliques and classes. AFH also encouraged teens to feel confident as individuals. Will’s proudest moment was realizing his art had an impact outside of the program.

An AFH gallery opening during Will’s time at AFH

“We showed paintings and work at this gallery on Newbury Street. It was very much a ‘fancy place.’ Somehow we all got to hang our work there and I sold two or three paintings. I was psyched on all fronts.”

“Some older person who probably knows what they’re doing in life and is a well-formed human-being decided that my work was good enough to hang on their wall.”

Teens who come to AFH feel seen and recognized as individuals.

“It felt like a triumph to be recognized. I hadn’t had many experiences of that throughout life.”

After attending MassArt for film, he returned to AFH as a Screen Printing Mentor. Though Will found moments of reprieve at AFH, outside stressors became unignorable. Will left to address declining personal circumstances.

Will never expected AFH to “fix” his personal struggles. Will and other teenagers came to AFH to relax, to work and be together— to be themselves. The repeated moments in which he felt belonging and recognition at AFH lent stability to his youth.

“AFH provided me with some things I didn’t feel like I was getting on the outside — a sense of legitimacy and a sense of who I am.”

Twenty years later, he’s evidently in a better place — Will’s found his interests and his identity in machining and assists others with the tools to realize their design visions. He’s also interested in learning more about psychology. I’m sure his introspective nature and thoughtful reflections will help others as it did for himself.

“AFH became a stream for me. Many of the days repeated but in a good way. We underestimate the value of consistency in the lives of people who are otherwise experiencing vast inconsistencies. I couldn’t even begin to think what the difference would be. Being a part of this place did a tremendous amount for my sense of self and self-esteem — being seen, being recognized and being familial in a jovial and youthful way.”

Written by Amy Chu.

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