A School for Impractical Cabinetmakers

inside passageA gifted teacher preserves and shares the legacy of James Krenov.

by Asa Christiana
pages 47-51

To reach the Inside Passage School of Fine Cabinetmaking, you head northwest from Vancouver, B.C., leaving behind the glass-towered city to board the ferry at Horseshoe Bay. Pull up your collar and stand alone on deck as the vessel threads between snow-capped mountains to tie up near the little town of Roberts Creek. For more than a decade now, students from 37 countries have made this brief but beautiful journey, navigating a piece of Canada’s vast coastal waterway to pursue an inner path, one marked out by the late cabinetmaker and educator James Krenov.

The school’s founder is Robert Van Norman, a gifted maker and teacher who forged a deep friendship with the older man. When Krenov’s eyes began to fail, he so believed in Van Norman’s venture that he donated his workbenches, hand tools, machines and entire archive of photos and slides to the school.

“I know the people there,” Krenov said at the time. “I like what they are doing and I like very much the way they are doing it. The emphasis is on hand skills, not primitive methods but efficient skills. Work that can be traced to the maker, the hand, the eye and the heart.”

Unable to be at the school when it opened but eager to help, Krenov acted as an adviser and gave weekly lectures via speakerphone, which Van Norman recorded for posterity. Today those recordings are a core part of the curriculum, accompanied by slides from the archive.

Blog: See more of the author’s photographs from his visit to Inside Passage.
Website: Visit the school’s website at insidepassage.ca to find out about classes and instructors, and to see more student work.
Book: The author’s “Build Stuff with Wood,” is due out later this year – find out more at buildstuffwithasa.com.
In Our Store:The Impractical Cabinetmaker,” by James Krenov.

From the June 2017 issue, #232