Stellar Training in Craftsmanship. Period.
Boston's North Bennet Street School turns 125
Synopsis: Boston’s North Bennet Street School turns 125 this year. We look back on the school’s origins, from sloyd, an innovative method of teaching hand skills, to the program on furniture making that has turned out some of the top craftsmen of our day.
Steve Brown entered North Bennet Street School’s Cabinet and Furniture Making program in 1988 with one year’s experience in a shop that cranked out thousands of grouting trowels and street-hockey sticks. The furniture program was, he says, “a very intimidating place to come into.” Everywhere he looked were students reproducing some of the most challenging pieces of period furniture ever designed. “The scope of the work and the level of quality were just overwhelming,” he says. “You can’t imagine that you’ll ever be doing what other people are doing. But eventually you find out they were just like you.”
These days, Brown is the lead instructor in the program, which runs for two years and has four teachers and some 40 students. After 10 years, Brown says, “I’m still blown away by what gets produced here.” Sometimes in the early mornings, he walks around the empty shop and marvels at the work that’s under way. “It’s still incredible to me to see how somebody with very little experience can so quickly pick up the skill and the thinking required to produce work that matches pieces you’d find in a museum.”
The school turns 125 this year, and for all that time it has occupied the same quirky building—a former church stitched together with three adjacent townhouses—in Boston’s higgledy-piggledy North End. The school was founded to serve the teeming population of recent immigrants then living in the North End. Originally, it provided a range of social services: kindergartens, English classes, vocational…