When the Vermont Woodworking School of Fairfax, Vt., and the Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers formed an alliance in January, their mission was to further the art of woodworking and furniture making in the state. Many of the guild members have already taught or have signed up to teach in their fields of expertise.
Carina Driscoll and Robert Fletcher co-founded the school in September 2007. Fletcher has a strong woodworking background in furniture making and restoration. Driscoll, who has a business development and marketing background, was one of Fletcher’s students at a former shop.
“We were involved with a community woodshop that was for people from this area. It was fun, but it was really for hobbyists and we knew that the place could be so much more,” says Driscoll. “We really wanted to be part of perpetuating the art of fine woodworking, so we allowed students to really delve into it and to be the craftsmen of tomorrow that are going to carry on that which would otherwise be lost.”
Driscoll says there is a small group of extremely talented woodworkers in Vermont. But there is no sign of a next generation on the horizon.
“There are some young individuals out there who are interested in learning, but they have a long way to go to replace the generation in 50 to 100 years, where we could be looking at the lost art again,” she says.
The school has a rolling admissions process and offers something for woodworkers of all skill levels. Located in a scenic rural setting, the classes are held primarily in a 19th-century barn featuring 10,000 sq. ft. of shop space. It sits on a five-acre property containing instructor housing and dorms in an 1800s farmhouse.
The school offers 12-week intensive programs and introductory courses, as well as one or two classes per month that focus on particular skills. For example, Janet Collins recently offered instruction on relief carving and Mario Messina is scheduled to teach vacuum bag veneering. The monthly classes are limited to 10 students.
Moriah Doucette, a student from Conway, N.H., recently enrolled in her second three-month apprenticeship program at the school. She has a landscaping business, and because she’s free in the winters, thought woodworking instruction would help her learn the techniques to supplement her income. The school’s social atmosphere, the country setting and the great instructors were all reasons why she chose to return.
“Bob Fletcher has a great method for cutting dovetails where he makes his own jig out of leftover plywood so you don’t have to buy a premade jig. I had learned how to handcut dovetails, but if you’re going to run a business you need a more efficient way of doing things and he had a way of teaching things like that,” says Doucette.
Driscoll says she is proud the school is seeing an increasing enrollment and has been successful in this difficult economic time. She attributes its growth and success to all of the shared passion for preservation of time-honored traditions from like-minded individuals who got together to make it happen.
“Everyone says in order for the economy to thrive, we need to be doing things better, faster, and we need to be focusing on the cutting edge. We’re saying, ‘Yes that’s true, but there’s a place for preserving a high-end product, such as furniture that’s meant to be passed down from generation to generation.’ ”