Wednesday, May 11, 2011

(Insert Large Sigh Here)

I could go grandiose and say “an era has ended”, but one really has: Robert Laible is now retiring from teaching after 21 years as the night metals instructor at Parkland.  For those of us privileged to have taken his classes they have been an institution, for Robert’s knowledge and gift for explaining things, and for the atmosphere of comraderie that he has created and encouraged.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, the man is an extremely gifted metalsmith and jeweler, and a stone-setting genius, but more than that he’s a brilliant teacher.  In all the classes I’ve taken in various places I’ve never seen such total respect and affection for an instructor from all their students: Robert’s class may have seemed like near chaos at times, but the trust and respect we all have for him created order- and even when several people are (were) simultaneously yelling “Rooooberrrrt!!!!”, he always got to everyone, and made you feel that you had his undivided attention while you had him.  Even when it was late and tempers were fraying, he still kept the mood upbeat and fun (The 80’ British Gold as a soundtrack helped...not so much the B-52’s- I really didn’t need the lyrics to “Love Shack” permanently imprinted on my brain...none of us did.), though as any of his students would attest, his favorite bon mot “are you done yet”, perfectly timed for moments of supreme frustration, has frequently made even the most pacifist students want to slug him.  He’s gone far, far beyond what your average instructor would do just on time alone: even though the listed hours for the class were always 7:00 – 9:45pm, Mondays and Wednesdays, in actuality they were 4:30 – 10:30 on Mondays and 5:30 – 10:30 on Wednesdays, but also on so many occasions he (and his wife Denise) have juggled their home and work schedules to let students get that one last casting in, to come in really early to allow extra time to finish that last piece for the student show, and (back in the day before Parkland Security cracked down on it) allowed students to stay and work clear through the night (that would be you, John). 

But also one of the things that I value most is his emphasis on the importance of thoroughness and attention to detail: to learn how to do a technique / make something manually the “hard” way before using power tools, or ordering a component, etc, not just to allow greater control, but also to give an appreciation for and understanding of process and craftsmanship...and the insistence on doing things precisely right -down to that last .25mm- yet also knowing when to step back and realize that humans aren’t machines!

Oh yes, and he can spot firescale at 50 paces, with his back turned, in the dark.  (And probably with his eyes closed too.)

Now for the party...

For a retirement gift for Robert, my benchmate and friend Tedra Ashley, a bookbinder by trade, and I, organized and made this little class gift for Robert:

Photos: Tedra Ashley

The box and hammer rest is Tedra’s work (check out her other goodies at, the book is mine (putting that day job in book conservation to use).  The book contains notes of appreciation and thanks from current and former students, and the hammer is a lovely little toy that we know he’ll use.

Now one of our metals finals would never be complete without the obligatory bench load of sugary sweet and deadly chocolatey rich desserts, and this semester was no exception.  A few selections include: John’s Strawberry Crisp, Tedra’s Chocolate Chili Rum Soufflé, Hanna and Denise’s (Robert’s daughter and wife) Cherry Pie, plus the usual assortment of cookies and assorted other sweet stuff.  Erin should be commended for being a voice of sanity, and contributing Cheesy Potatoes, and ham and cheese sandwiches to cut the sugar.  My own contribution was this:

Raspberry White Chocolate Cheesecake


1 cup crushed Digestive Biscuits (Carr’s Whole Wheat Biscuits would be an acceptable substitute.)

3 tbs Sugar

3 tbs melted Butter

Mix together the crumbs and the sugar, then mix in the melted butter and blend well.  Cut an 9” circle of baking parchment and place in the bottom of an 9” springform pan (this allows for easy removal later), then evenly press the crumb mixture in on top of the parchment.


3 8oz packages of Cream Cheese, softened

¾ cup Sugar

8oz White Chocolate, melted

3 Eggs

Cream together the cream cheese and the sugar until well blended, then beat in the chocolate a spoonful at a time (now taste it- good, eh?) then beat in the eggs.  Pour over the crust and bake at 325° F for 55 minutes, until almost set at the center. Allow to cool.


          ¾ cup Raspberries

1/3 cup Sugar

1 tbs Flour

Simmer the fruit and sugar, stirring frequently, until the berries have disintegrated.  Slowly add the flour to the berries, and continue simmering, stirring constantly, until it thickens.  Set aside to cool, just until lukewarm.


Melted White Chocolate


To make the outer border, dip the base of each raspberry in melted chocolate before placing on the cake.  Once all the berries are positioned, allow the chocolate to harden for a few minutes.  Once the chocolate has hardened, spoon on the raspberry topping and carefully spread to cover.  The chocolate leaves are made by piping melted chocolate onto baking parchment that is wrapped around a cooler ice pack, and then once set (almost instant) popping them off with a butter knife to position on the cake.

Refrigerate before serving.

Oh.  My.  Goodness.

Robert, we’ll miss you on Monday and Wednesday nights...but you won’t have a chance to miss us at the rate we’ll be lurking around your shop.


  1. I want that cheesecake. NOW. I can't wait until berries are in season over here...

  2. Y'all may have a problem with the pics on this one, try hitting "refresh" if you just get code...