This past week, I taught a week-long workshop for MECA’s continuing studies program. The class was made up of six students, from high school age and up. The only thing this group had in common was their lack of experience with furniture making techniques and woodworking on a finer level. The class, which I developed to be part of a series of these workshops eventually, focused on learning the basics of woodworking and the shop (safety, proper use, best practices, basic joinery, wood selection, milling, assembly, finishing, etc…) by way of making a simple shaker end table. Each student made one and the goal was to have it sanded and assembled at the end of the week. We narrowly made it, with each student going home with their own solid cherry table.
I chose this table, because, while a BFA program focuses equally on technical practices and conceptual development, I find that the shop is really best learned through the strict parameters of a prescribed form. This table is familiar, straight forward, and relatively simple, while requiring many or all of the most common practices in the furniture making process. Simply put, it’s a great project to ensure a thorough learning of basic practices, while coming away with a finished and satisfying product.
I loved teaching this workshop for a few reasons:
1-I love teaching people how to make things and how to make them well. I find that pushing too much conceptual exploration, before establishing a technical framework can be counterproductive. By offering an assigned project with set dimensions, materials, and parameters, we can focus on developing these skills, and they can apply it to whatever they want in the future. It’s all the same process.
2-It’s always refreshing to teach a group of non-art-students. I love the weird conversations that happen in an art context, and I thrive on solving creative and structural problems with artists, but there is something endlessly satisfying about showing someone genuinely interested in learning a skill, how to do it, and how to do it right, simply for the sake of knowing something new.
3-Finally, the one week is such a fantastic setting to teach a time and labor intensive skill in. During the regular semester, students meet twice a week for 3 hours. Much of the semester is spent getting warmed up, then things get crazy, then it’s over. It always feels like there isn’t enough time. While one week is still a short time to make a functioning piece of furniture, 5 straight 7 hour days is a dream for getting work done. In the first two days of this class, I feel like we covered a months work of regular semester material, and the next day we just pushed on. We make three projects during a 14 week semester and even that seems tight at times. Granted, they are designing from scratch and have other classes, but it is a delight to have the full undivided attention of a group of learners.
As an added bonus, This class happened to coincide with the Thomas Moser exhibition at the ICA at MECA, which features, among many of his personal designs, a set of Shaker style tables just like we were making. If you are interested in furniture making and design, you should come see this show. It is set up as a learning experience and you will definitely learn a lot. We went into the show while it was closed so we could spend some time really inspecting the work, especially the Shaker end tables.
So, below are some photographs from this course. It was a whirlwind and a blast, and I think the students walked away with a general understanding of the basic principles of furniture making. the assignment was one Shaker end table with a 15″ square top, 23″ tall, a leg tapering from 1,3/8″ square to 3/4″ square, and a 2.5″ apron. I love these super specific assignments and have considered doing this even in my art furniture classes. first make this perfectly, then explore on your own….