A Message from the Head of School

 

zach-durr-bench

A year or two ago, I asked Art Teacher Michael Webster to make a presentation on the MFS woodworking program at an Admissions Open House. Open Houses occur only a few times a year and are central to our efforts to attract new families to the school. We try to make every minute count.

At the Open House, I could see some doubt on the faces of the prospective parents when Michael was introduced. Woodworking in a college prep school? Isn’t that what they offer at vocational schools? But as Michael described the purpose of our woodworking program, the skepticism began to fade. When he showed photographs of student work, the audience was in awe. This was not “just” woodshop. It was about creativity, design, craftsmanship, and beauty — all of it student-generated. Following his presentation, the visiting parents wanted to talk with Michael – not with me or other administrators – about MFS.

The MFS 3D Design & Woodworking Program, as it is now known, has a long and proud tradition which you will find described in the feature story in this issue of Among Friends. My own recollections of the program revolve around my teacher, Warren Shelley. I still have and use a lawn bench I built in fourth grade, but I was not one of Mr. Shelley’s better students. I was more interested in goofing around and making the occasional, unusable baseball bat. Mr. Shelley was astounded when, two decades later, I received a degree in Woodworking and Furniture Design from Rochester Institute of Technology and went to work for Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers in Maine. But that’s another story…

Given my background, one might reasonably expect me to be an advocate for the program. And I am. But a central value of the program goes beyond woodworking to the quality of the teachers who over the years have been, in very different ways, inspirational for our students. None has been a one-dimensional shop teacher. They have embodied a wide range of styles and personalities. Each was beloved and revered for different reasons. From them, our students have learned lessons that go far beyond woodworking.

Chuck Boothby, profiled in the story, taught woodworking and English at MFS for 15 years. He likes to quote Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez in a 1981 Paris Review interview, “Writing something is almost as hard as making a table. With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood. Both are full of tricks and techniques. Basically very little magic and a lot of hard work are involved.”

These broader lessons are the essence of the woodworking program at MFS — but with a small twist: students do indeed engage in a lot of hard work, but they also experience more than a little magic.

Sincerely,

Larry Van Meter

Larry Van Meter ’68
Head of School

Next: Learning the Art of Design in 3D Design & Woodworking