Saturday, May 10, 2003

Furniture school selective

Maine craft institute has many applicants, few openings

By Clarke Canfield
The Associated Press

[IMAGE] Peter Korn, founder of the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine.
(Associated Press photos)
| ZOOM |
ROCKPORT, Maine - In a workshop with the scent of wood shavings and shellac, a dozen people work planes and drills and awls making cabinets, tables and other pieces of fine furniture.

Among them are a dentist, a nurse, a logger, an electrician, a college student, a flooring contractor, an engineer and a retired U.S. marshal. They come from as far away as California and Alaska.

For now, though, they are students at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, learning about dovetail joints, wood bending, veneering and other intricacies of furniture making. Hundreds each year apply for one of the two 12-week courses, but only 24 are admitted.

Peggy Fekete, of Charlotte, N.C., was among the lucky ones.

Sitting at a workbench on a recent spring day, she ran her fingers across the smooth wood of a cherry cabinet that she designed and is building. The cabinet has a frame-and-panel door with a drawer under it, and will mount on a wall.

Nearby, a woman works on a portable writing desk, or lap desk, made of cherry and bird's-eye maple. At another workbench, a man looks over a wine cabinet, with a cherry frame and curly maple panels, that will hold 10 bottles and wine glasses.

Students make pieces ranging from blanket chests and coffee tables to kindling boxes and bentwood chairs, using skills they hone in the class.

Fekete says immersing herself in furniture making allows her to indulge a newfound passion after losing her data-processing bank job a year ago. At 50, she decided to come to Maine to pursue a dream - and a future as a woodworking artisan.

"I decided to use the other side of my brain," she says.

[IMAGE] Tim Rousseau of Appleton, Maine, works on a small table at the center
| ZOOM |
It's been 10 years since Peter Korn founded the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. That first year, freshly moved to Maine from Colorado, Korn offered courses in a workshop in his back yard in nearby Rockland.

The school now occupies a three-room, 4,200 square-foot building on roughly 12 acres of meadows with pine, oak, ash, alder and apple trees in Rockport.

Korn, 51, is a self-taught furniture maker from Philadelphia and the author of Working With Wood: The Basics of Craftsmanship(Taunton; $19.95) Before moving to Maine, he was the woodworking director at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass, Colo. For years he struggled to make ends meet making furniture in New York and Long Island, Philadelphia and Nantucket, Mass.

His aim is straightforward enough: to teach students how to build beautiful yet utilitarian furniture. He believes that craftsmanship is an "expression of spirit" and says many students are looking for changes in their lives, as well as learning how to make a mortise-and-tenon joint.

"Our philosophy, our point of view, is we're teaching it for the love of the craft, rather than what you do with it financially," he said.

It is that approach, he said, that draws about 270 students a year for the two 12-week courses and 25 one- and two-week courses.

Tuition for the 12-week course is $5,100, and the school arranges for students to rent rooms in private homes for $230 a week.

"I think what's going on up there has got to be one of the best-kept secrets in the state of Maine," said Thomas Moser, a cabinetmaker who serves as an honorary board member of the center.

He said Korn's school is the only one he knows of that offers intense midlength courses that focus on making furniture that is practical. Too many instructors these days, Moser says, view furniture as pieces of art rather than useful objects to sit on, eat on or keep things in.

Information: (207) 594-5611 or Web site

Furniture school selective
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