“Woodshop is an art because it’s handcrafted, because parts are assembled according to developing personal aesthetics, that is, because this process of moving from parts to finished product is central to each person’s emerging full sense of self. Woodshop offers an open, creative opportunity for each student to explore their inner selves as they manifest their ideas into something substantial.” – MFS Woodworking and English Teacher Chuck Boothby (1977-92)
A proud tradition of woodworking has prevailed at Moorestown Friends for generations, instilling in its students a sensible foundational knowledge of basic tools and construction, but, moreover, a spirit of creative confidence. Middle and Upper School students learn to approach design ideas with a curious mind, develop the technical skills needed for a build, and adapt plans competently when mistakes happen, eliminating the fear of “failure.” Within each piece, admirers can appreciate not only the quality of the craftsmanship, but also the beauty of resilience and learning through trial and error.
Historically, the programs led at Moorestown Friends by Warren Shelley, Chuck Boothby, and Marty Richter have been referenced in a number of ways – Manual Training, shop class, or woodshop – but as of the 2016-17 school year, the Middle and Upper School classes, now under the tutelage of MS/US Art Teacher Michael Webster, is known as 3D Design & Woodworking. Although the curriculum is not changing, the new program name is a small surface-level modification to better capture the breadth of the curriculum, involving the usage of many materials in addition to wood, and the student talent that has garnered much acclaim throughout the years.
“In our 3D Design & Woodworking program, Middle School students are guided by their teacher Michael Webster through the brainstorming, refining, drafting, and prototyping stages,” said Middle School Director Kimberly Clarkson. “Each student creates something really unique in class with Michael, whether it be a 3D-printed jewelry set in fifth grade or sculptures in seventh grade. In the end we have Middle School students that go through the entire design process and create pieces of art that are, in my opinion, comparable to advanced high school student work at other schools.”
In Middle School, the goal of the program is to train the students in the design process, where they begin generating creative ideas, refine their best sketches, and learn basic woodworking tools and techniques. Fifth graders begin with an introduction to design and technology. Sixth through eighth grade students are challenged to build a container, sculpture, or furniture item each year. Once students enter Upper School, the instruction on the design process is streamlined, and the focus becomes the conceptual meaning of the work and consideration of how an audience will receive the design. At the advanced level, a variety of electives are available, including Advanced Placement (AP) Studio Art 3D Design, Digital 3D Art, and Street Art.
Webster began teaching The College Board’s AP Studio Art 3D Design course in the fall of 2014. Since then, every AP student has earned the top score of 5 on his or her portfolio. Additionally, for three years in a row, an MFS student has been featured on the College Board website as an AP Studio Art sample. Each year, only a few portfolios are chosen to be highlighted out of nearly 5,000 submissions submitted by high school students nationally. Coles Driscoll ’14, Mankaran Bhasin ’15, and Eric Price ’16 were showcased.
“My philosophy towards art pedagogy is to focus on developing tools that can serve each student, regardless of what profession they ultimately choose,” said Webster. “Art and Design teach us to approach images, objects, and spaces with critical awareness and a desire to find creative solutions in the world.”
Although he is a hands-on instructor and can be found constantly moving around the woodshop, individually conferencing with students, Webster also emphasizes the independence that is gained when students are trusted and taught to use power tools like a scroll saw, drill press, cordless hand drill, and power sander.
“I expect my students to do well and I give them the opportunity to do so by scaffolding the experience,” said Webster. “We first learn what is possible by reviewing all the tools in the studio. Another very important step is watching videos of artists speaking about their work and their creative process so students can gain inspiration and models. Then I talk to them individually about their design, time management, and the details of their plans with precise dimensions and measurements. My students push themselves as much as they want, but I encourage them to be ambitious, to try something no one has done before. I don’t want them to follow template plans or design something so simple it will be easy to build. This blank canvas gives them more freedom to be creative, and creativity is a skill that you only learn through practice.”