Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, Vermont offers over 80 hands-on courses per year in design, construction, woodworking, and architectural craft and offers a variety of courses concentrating in sustainable design. Now in its 35th year, Yestermorrow is one of the only design/build schools in the country, teaching both design and construction skills. Our hands-on 1-day to 3-week workshops, certificate programs and semester programs are taught by top architects, builders, and craftspeople from across the country. For people of all ages and experience levels, from novice to professional.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Tess Thomas: Developing Craftsmanship & Consistency in the Woodshop

The wood shop is buzzing with activity, as our Woodworking Certificate students near completion on their Small Scale Design/Build projects. The diversity of projects is remarkable: from a coffee table to a sphere-making jig, from a stylized chair to a rubber band shotgun. This is the first time the students have had such a free assignment and the drive is palpable. Tess Thomas is no exception. The intensity of her concentration can be seen by the focus in her eyes as she examines the wood of what will be the legs of the pair of stools she is making.

No stranger to the design process, Tess studied sculpture and installation art in Charleston, SC and Chicago. A self-taught woodworker, Tess came to Yestermorrow to learn craftsmanship. “With woodworking, I always thought of it as being super-rigid, but I was able to have this very creative, open design process.  Then I learned how to choose my own lumber and learn the order of operations. I am constantly learning that there is this intuitive nature about it all, and that was unexpected.”

Why stools for the current project? Tess wanted to keep it simple. Craftsmanship and consistency are two qualities which she really admires, so she chose a project where she could practice on these traits. Most of all, she wanted something streamlined, allowing her to make two of more of something. These beautifully hand-tapered stools with high quality craftsmanship empowers her to do just that.

“I am learning to trust my instincts and take my time,” she says. “Most of all, I have learned that one of the things that makes a great woodworker is that they know how to remedy their mistakes and make them look intentional. There’s a certain kind of magic in that. I am starting to see how that is totally true.” Tess points to a leg of one of her stools. “See this taper—I had two distinctive layers along with some pencil marks and glue. But I learned how to calm down, know that this does not ruin the whole thing, and trust myself that I would come up with a way to fix it.  And I did, and they look great now.”

“Justin (Kramer, program director) has been really amazing to teach me about the efficiency component; to not only do something beautifully and make sure your level of craftsmanship is up there, but to do it in such a way so that you are not afraid to cut corners and use the machines in a more efficient manner so you are watching your time. It’s a component I am not used to thinking about.”

Before Tess came to the program, she was already dabbling in woodworking. She worked in a frame shop for a couple of guys in a two-car garage. She didn’t want to ask questions, though she had many. She speaks of how the Woodworking Certificate is a completely different situation.  It  is the first time she has truly been trained to use the various machinery of the shop and how she has been taught from the ground-up. And how questions are welcomed!

“I now feel comfortable. I am getting to the point where I can understand the inner workings of things and that is really helping me be competent in the shop. I have had a lot of design-heavy pieces in the past, but I haven’t been able to execute them. Especially in the past two weeks, I have been able to know how to implement my designs in a step-by-step manner… and that has made me feel very competent, which is a big change from having an idea but not having a clue of how to go about making it.”

By Nic Tuff

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Drew Roeder's Road to Creativity

Drew Roeder sits at a drafting table during week seven of the Woodworking Certificate Program. The students are in the midst of Small Scale Design/Build, a transcendent moment in the program when each student is provided the opportunity, for the first time, to design and then build an object from their own creative impulses. Most of the other students are already next door in the shop, milling lumber, making jigs, and moving toward the physical forms of chairs, tables, or sculptural elements. Drew is on another track; he is still figuring out the intricacies of a cartridge for an heirloom quality, double-barrel, rubberband shotgun – to be a gift for his uncle, who happens to be a fairly virulent anti-gun advocate.

As one might guess from someone intent on bringing rubberband shooting to new artistic heights, Drew’s road through life is filled with twists and surprises. He first arrived at Yestermorrow in August of 2013, traveling from southwestern Pennsylvania… on a bicycle. After numerous years bouncing between a variety of labor – from home construction to commercial swimming pool maintenance (“terrible chemicals,” he says) – interrupted by a variety of adventures, he peddled off toward Burlington, Vermont, but with a planned two-week detour at the school to embark on Yestermorrow’s classic Home Design/Build course. It was a revelatory experience.
“I fell in love with the program and decided then and there to take as many Yestermorrow classes as possible,” he said. With some financial backing, Drew enrolled in the school’s current Woodworking Certificate program, and is registered for 10 more classes this coming spring and summer, mostly in the residential scale construction and design realm. 

“I realize that the people are the resource at Yestermorrow,” he said.  “Where else can you get practicing professionals willing to devote themselves to the students, not just during the class, but after hours, and even after the class is finished?  The people here are so helpful, so remarkably open.  I want to keep building those relationships.”

And the revelations keep coming. The Woodworking Certificate has opened the floodgates for Drew’s creative juices. “The opportunity to embark on the design process this week, it clarifies what I love doing. Being able to delve into drawing, figuring out the gears, tolerances, and spacing for the gun cartridge, sketching it out a couple dozen times, making a prototype that worked great. I’m about ready to make the cartridge from sheet metal, and then I’ll be carving by hand the cherry for the gun stock.” He pauses for a brief moment, before adding, “I need to be making stuff!”

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Jude Connelly Sees the Science Behind the Wood

During the lunch break, the sounds of machinery in the woodshop are distant as a student pulls out his banjo and starts to pick. This is a very busy week for the Woodworking Certificate crew: Now in Week 6 of their program, they are constructing two elegant cabinetry units for a client. But things are going well. They are ahead of schedule and under budget.  According to Program Director, Justin Kramer, this is partially due to  
the effectiveness of the project management, a responsibility the instructors are sharing with two of the students. One of those students is Jude Connelly.

Jude came to Yestermorrow from a Cambridge, MA, biotech science lab, Metabolics, where he was involved with creating biodegradable plastics.  He enjoyed the end-product of the work, but was feeling like a cog in a system and decided it was time to do something about it and find something he really enjoyed.  “I feel like I’m on the right path now,” Jude explains. “The whole design/ build process and working with wood really meshes with me.”

Jude studied science since he was very young, and he is finding the transition to furnituremaking isn’t really that far-fetched. “I always wanted to know why things are the way they are. I appreciate working with wood because it is a scientific process, from the layers of each species to the molecular components.  It’s not a cut-and-dry banging pieces of wood together.  There are so many aspects to woodworking.  I use my scientific background to cut a piece of wood.  It involves the same precision as scientific research, for example.  I am very detail-oriented.”

But furnituremaking is allowing his creative voice a new-found place in the mix. He explains how he had a transformative moment when he got to take an abandoned white oak trailer bed and make a top for a cabinet.  “I enjoyed taking something that had lost its use and make something beautiful out of it.” 

Jude is seeing his future path begin to take shape -- he has already landed a cabinetry job for this summer. “I’m really trying to pay attention to the details this week, so I can apply these skills this summer, from the drafting to the building. This course is changing my view-point on life.  No matter what, I know I will be working with wood. I’m loving what I’m doing here, and I’m not going to stop.”

by Nic Tuf

Monday, March 17, 2014

City Repair Founder Mark Lakeman to Speak at Yestermorrow

Visionary architect, permaculturist, and community-renewal advocate Mark Lakeman will present a public lecture at Yestermorrow on Tuesday, March 25. Lakeman is the principal of the community architecture and planning firm Communitecture, Inc., as well as the co-founder of the Portland, Oregon-based non-profit place-making organization City Repair Project, and its affiliate programs, The Village Building Convergence and the Planet Repair Institute.

Lakeman’s presentation, entitled “City Repair & Planet Repair: Transforming Space into Place,” will describe a chronological set of strategies and creative interventions that are being used to retrofit American communities and cities. Beginning with the gathering places and cultural dynamic that are characteristically weak or absent in many communities, the models and strategies he will present have been shown to replicate and spread to neighborhoods across the continent, taking on new forms that compound their impact and begin to transform political leadership and bureaucratic cultures, town by town and city by city.

With an exhaustive list of socially and ecologically innovative projects under his belt -- including numerous ecovillage designs, infill co-housing examples, projects involving low income and homeless people, and an assortment of culturally restorative initiatives driven by the patterns of broad participation, local ownership, and social capital – Lakeman’s dedicated focus on the nexus of sustainable landscapes and cultural solutions has won him admirers worldwide.

His projects have been featured in Dwell Magazine, Architecture Magazine, New Village Journal, Yes Magazine, the Utne Reader, and many others. He was awarded the National Lewis Mumford Award by the international organization Architects & Planners for Social Responsibility for his work with Dignity Village, one of the United States’ first self-developed, permanent communities by and for previously homeless people.

Lakeman’s lecture will begin at 7pm at the Yestermorrow campus on Route 100 in Waitsfield. It is free and open to the general public.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Adam Riggin Lovin' Learnin' With His Hands In Woodworking Certificate

'Socks' dress up a table leg.

Walking through the wood shop during Week 5 of the Woodworking Certificate program, there is a palpable excitement as the students focus on assembling the components of their traditional shaker-style end tables. This is the moment where every joint they’ve learned to this point will come together in a single piece of furniture. Though the tables emanate from the same design, everyone has pursued their own aesthetic touches. The table sitting in front of me is strikingly different, with ‘socks’ at the base of each leg, and through-mortises— a more modern aesthetic on a traditional piece. In the back of the shop, Adam Riggin, who is the youngest of the group, is busy sanding his end pieces.

Adam has come to the program after finishing his third semester at UVM, where he is studying Community Development & Economics. When asked about taking time off, Adam smiles and explains, “Time off? That’s framing it as if school was the thing to do and everything else was a deviation from that.  School is always going to be there. I love school, but I am interested in other things as well. James Michener has a book called The Drifters, and there’s a guy in it who says that you don’t waste a day in your life before you are thirty-five – the idea being that every experience shapes you as a person and [helps you] get some insight.”
Adam explains that his program at UVM is very theoretical and he found himself longing for something more hands-on. Hailing from East Montpelier, Adam had grown up knowing about Yestermorrow.  His boss during his summer work doing construction was even a Yestermorrow instructor. It was during a conversation with his father last summer that he decided to take a break from college and enroll in the Woodworking Certificate program.

“I spent a couple summers building and that was really fun, but it’s hard to be working and learning at the same time for me because when you’re getting paid to do something, there’s pressure to not make mistakes or to fix things as fast as possible. Being in an educational setting just allows you to, for one thing, take your time, and also, not be afraid to make mistakes and to ask as many questions as you want and get lengthy explanations. It’s a really supportive environment and you couldn’t ask for a better group of people.”

He looks at the end pieces for his shaker table before him and speaks of how satisfying it was to prepare the
wood and get it to its current state. “The assembly has been a challenge for me because I made a couple of mistakes in my layout, so hopefully I will have this all glued-up and ready to install the drawers by the end of the day.”

So what’s next for Adam? He is in no hurry to get back to school. He will be taking another semester off to tour the East Coast and Europe with Village Harmony, a renowned Vermont-based group that teaches world folk music. Peering into the shop later in the day, Adam is smiling at the table before him, now glued and clamped. “This work is so satisfying,” he beams.

By Nic Tuff

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Woodworking Student Drew Chambers Goes with the Grain

Sitting down in the Yestermorrow South Studio to design a very elaborate pencil box, Woodworking Certificate student Drew Chambers reflects on the program, now in its fourth week.  “Wood is something we all know with our eyes closed. But understanding how it grows, how it’s milled, and how it wants to behave are all integral to making wooden objects that will last.” 

In these preliminary weeks of the eleven-week program, the class has already gone into the forest to analyze trees and the wood they produce, and studied the process of felling and skidding trees, and milling it into lumber.  In the shop, green logs have been turned into ladderback chairs, and students have been introduced to the technical details of cabinetry and the art of joinery. Some students came into the program with significant experience, while others did not, yet every one of the chairs they produced looks uniformly elegant and reminiscent of one you might find in a refined antique shop. They have even built beautiful wooden mallets which they will take with them as they embark on their woodworking careers. And this week, a diverse range of boxes are being designed and crafted, from the smaller project like Drew’s, to a large toolbox.

Drew first heard about Yestermorrow when a bus showed up at the Slide Ranch in northern California where he was working as a farm-based environmental educator. This bus had been retrofitted complete with a rainwater catchment system, a greenhouse, a biodiesel engine, and solar panels on the roof. Drew wanted to know how he did it.  As it turns out, this man had completed the Certificate in Sustainable Design program at Yestermorrow, and that was when Yestermorrow entered Drew’s life path.

After receiving an art degree from Carleton College in Minnesota, Drew had spent his post-collegiate years teaching environmental science and was inspired by the sustainable infrastructure of the farms and schools in which he worked. “After that I wanted to get some experience with construction, design and woodworking, so that’s what brought me to the Woodworking Certificate program,” Drew explains.

“This is a way I can revive my art career by being a craftsman.” As an educator, Drew has a strong drive to help people be self-sufficient, and “woodworking is one critical skill people need to know about.” No matter where his career takes him, Drew knows that he will be able to use his woodworking skills to sustain or supplement his living.

With an impassioned voice, Drew shares his revelations from these early stages of the program, “Whether it’s a log, or a board or a chair, wood is always trying to tell you where it came from. It gets us back in touch.”

By Nic Tuf