Topaz Artis and James Artis Jr.

Generations Forged by Steel

Published March 22, 2022

Since the company’s earliest days, Newport News Shipbuilding has often employed multiple generations of the same families.

Take James Artis Sr. for instance. He had no idea his tenure at NNS would lead to generations forged by steel. Working as a welder in the 1960s, his determination to provide for his family was his motivation. While working at the shipyard, the father of six paved the way for legacy in shipbuilding that would continue through his son James M. Artis Jr. and granddaughter Topaz Artis.

Second-generation shipbuilder James Artis Jr. began his career at the shipyard 30 years ago as a mail carrier, a job he would hold for 25 years before settling into a material support role within Reproduction. His daughter Topaz Artis began her NNS career two years ago, as a third-generation shipbuilder as a production planner.

James Artis Jr. recalls his early years at NNS as technology was thriving and computers were making an impact on the workplace. “I can remember having a shipyard beeper or pager for communication purposes. All of which seems foreign today,” he said.

Security guards were a steady sight. “You would have to get validation from Security before entering the gates and shipyard parking lots, which would lead to long lines during shift changes,” he said.

James Artis Jr. remembers a solid distinction between hourly and salaried employees, which resulted in very minimal interaction between the two. He also recalls the scarcity of women in management positions.

Through the years, James Artis Jr. witnessed many changes at the shipyard. Specifically, the growth of technology, making timekeeping more accessible to employees. One of the most memorable moments he has enjoyed as an employee is the ability to see the progression of expansion throughout the shipyard, from the resurrection of the Innovation Center to the completion of VASCIC.

Another highlight was seeing his daughter become a shipbuilder.

“Being able to come to work with my father has been a memorable experience as I have found that the manufacturing industry has many moving parts and unique teams working effortlessly to accomplish the goal of building good ships,” said Topaz Artis. “I wanted to work at the shipyard to begin a career that had a foreseeable future. As a new employee, I believe in the company initiative of increased engagement. My career goal at NNS is to acquire as much knowledge necessary to support the business needs.”