Margaret Waskul: An Artist of Automobiles

Margaret Waskul, 39, is a clay modeler for the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Mich.

Q. What do you do as a clay modeler?

A. Car designers use digital sketches to conceptualize their vision, but it helps them immensely to view their idea as a physical, 3-D form. We create a clay model according to a designer’s specifications. They give us a drawing and return occasionally to study it and request changes. They might say, “Let’s drop this lower,” or “Let’s add more here.”

Is the clay different from the kind that children play with?

It’s brown and a little harder. We warm boxes of it to about 160 degrees in big, six-drawer ovens so it gets soft, like putty. We wear gloves to work with the hot clay, which we smear over a solid, hard-foam model produced by a milling machine. The clay hardens when it cools.

What qualifications did you need for this job?

The ability to sculpt well. Either you have it or you don’t. At one point I thought I’d be self-employed as a fine artist, but I decided I work better in a structured environment.

Do you make one model per car?

No, the process is more involved. We make models in two sizes. The first is four-tenths scale; we typically make six slightly different versions, each split down the middle to provide two views. After that, management indicates which they like best. Then we progress to life-size models, and eventually one tops the list.

How did you find this job?

Through my father, who works here as a modeler. I met my husband here; he’s also a modeler. I’m modeling Lincolns right now, my husband is modeling Ford Mustangs, and my dad produces digital models.

My husband’s twin brother works here in the same role, as did his father and uncle. My husband’s cousin is a modeler at Toyota. Maybe the talent is genetic.

How long have you been at Ford?

I started in 2002, but I took time off with my two children, so I’ve been here almost 10 years. I’m a contract employee.

What’s the feeling when you’re done with a car, when the designer finally settles on a design?

It’s awesome. It means I figured out what they wanted and delivered it.

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