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Artistry in trees

Sam Beauford Woodworking Institute Teaches Creativity and Craftmanship

There is artistry in the lines coursing through a piece of timber. That artistry tells the story of growth and resilience, much like the stories of those who craft the wood into a work of art at the Sam Beauford Woodworking Institute in Adrian. Much like a tree, the institute, nestled among 100 year old oaks on the campus of PlaneWave technologies, can be said to bring life and sustainability. The institute teaches skills and trades to help students gain meaningful employment in the woodworking industry while simultaneously fostering artistry and individuality through the creations crafted. A graduate of the diploma program, Zack Fealk now works at the institute and explained it is the combination of science and art that make woodworking such a passion for so many. 

“I love that it’s a mix of art and skill,” said Fealk as he measured spindles for a Windsor chair. “That mix qualifies it as more of a craft. It’s combining function with design and beauty.”

A trim and finish carpenter pre-pandemic, Fealk began taking classes during COVID and was drawn to being able to combine the functional methods of period woodworking with the artistry and designs of today.

“I got totally obsessed when I took my first class and realized it was my passion,” explained Fealk. “Woodworking allows these historical processes to be combined with new ideas. I’m never not a student.”

The institute, officially formed in 2017, has grown exponentially since its inception. Just last year, 418 students passed through its doors, on their way to crafting amazing pieces. This June, 13 graduates will earn their diploma from the institute and while they each learn the same curriculum, the results are unique to each artist.

“The pieces really reflect the different ways you can take this education,” said co-founder Dena Koehn. “The students get to use their own creativity and partner it with design techniques. Their first project is a tool chest and they learn dove tail joints and other techniques while making a chest that fits their tools.”

Koehn, along with Luke Barnett founded the institute after Barnett earned industry awards and recognition for his Windsor chairs and became a sought-after teacher of the craft. Now, along with single classes and an accredited diploma program, the duo formed the Woodworking for Warriors program, opening the institute each Friday to veterans who can use the wood shop at no cost. Currently, 288 veterans are registered for the program and take part in the no-pressure classes and camaraderie. The ability to create with their hands, converse with fellow veterans and learn new skills makes it more than just a coffee hour (thought that is provided free, along with the wood and tools).

“It’s therapy disguised as woodworking,” explained Koehn. The program is funded mostly through private donations and was so in demand last year it outgrew the budget. This year, the program has expanded into more than woodworking. Personal development courses, outdoor activities like baseball games, deer camp, fishing trips and more have been added. 

Much like a mighty oak planted in a small pot, the institute is nearly bursting at the seams and in a few short years has crafted a legacy of skill and artistry that is sure to stand well into the future. With a 25 year plan, Barnett said he is looking to the future of the institute and ensuring it continues to train and strengthen each woodworker that walks through its doors. Barnett recognizes the nuances and aspects that make each piece of wood and each student unique.

Success for Barnett means creating more than a piece of furniture, it means creating artists and crafters.

“We’re proud to say when that person who came through here is standing on their own and making beautiful things,” said Koehn.

Written by Amy Jo Brown

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