Slow and Steady wins The Race - Local ties help

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After graduating with a degree in metal sculpture, Bennett kicked around for a couple years, eventually taking a CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) as an assistant electrician for the state’s highway department. The CETA electrician for whom Bennett worked taught him about machinery and electricity, knowledge Bennett drew upon years later when he and his assistant wired his current shop and equipped it with machinery.

Although Bennett’s first pieces of furniture were created in Ohio University’s sculpture classes, it wasn’t until his tenure with CETA that he began — in his spare time — to produce work for sale. He had purchased a lathe and some turning tools and started making rolling pins and bowls, scraping out and sanding the forms until his skills enabled him to move on to more efficient methods at the lathe. This led him to a job turning knobs for a new Athens business, Statham Smiles, devoted to the manufacture of a line of Shaker-inspired furniture.

As Statham Smiles grew, Bennett was hired as a full-time cabinetmaker, one of a half-dozen working in that shop. Steve Latta, a period furniture maker and educator, was also part of the team. The shop owners were determined to succeed, borrowing enough money to produce a handsome catalog, and exhibiting their furniture in New York at shows put on by the American Society of Interior Designers.

On one trip, they took along the shop’s cabinetmakers as well. But, Bennett explained, the owners “were like a lot of us woodworkers; very poor businessmen. They spent all their money, never got the sales they wanted, and eventually went out of business.”

But for Bennett, the experience of working in that shop was very important. Not only had the principal owner, Gary Statham, given him a chance to acquire essential manual skills, he’d also learned something about how a shop should — and should not —operate. Plus, during his time at CETA and at the Statham Smiles shop, he’d been assembling a collection of tools that enabled him to move on to the next chapter of his woodworking life.

Local ties help
Bennett’s home and work lives are neatly melded. He lives in a house he built with his own hands from locally harvested wood, a house that once was home to his business. That house is adjacent to his current shop, which he also built. And neither construction would have been possible without the assistance of friends.

By 1983, as a result of years of 16-hour workdays, Bennett had saved enough money to buy a piece of property in the forested hills northeast of Athens, with enough left over to pay for the foundation of a home on that property. Then, once the foundation had been laid, he “bartered and hustled the rest of the house in one way or another.”

A friend and customer, Lynn Downey, owner of Sherwood Forest Products in Waverly, Ohio, offered to cut a house kit for Bennett out of poplar lumber and then allowed Bennett to work off the bill. Other friends helped with the labor. That got the shell up. The rest of the house was added in $100 increments as time and money allowed.

Even before the house was finished, Bennett moved his shop into the basement, where he worked for several years. He then added a building to be used as his new shop, situating that building close to his home so he could be present for the childhood years of his now 18-year-old daughter.