Peter Follansbee: Rebuilding the Past
One of my favorite parts of teaching woodworking is showing up at a school the day before my class begins to see what the previous instructor is doing.
Today I arrived at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking in Manchester, Conn., to find Peter Follansbee teaching the final day of a long class (one weekend over five months, I believe, with homework!) in building a reproduction of a piece from the Strong-Howard House in Windsor, Conn.
The piece is quite involved – it’s a chest with drawers that is both joined and fully carved. To make this class work, Follansbee and his students have been working independently for months on their projects with weekends spent under Follansbee’s eye. Sunday was the final day of the class that began five months ago with the students splitting out their parts from logs.
Like any capable instructor, Follansbee is building a version of the piece that will go to the Windsor Historical Society. And Follansbee is just one of the craftsmen who have been helping the historical society build reproduction pieces that members of the public can experience up-close and first-hand. This three-year project has consumed thousands of hours by teachers and students in New England to reproduce some amazing pieces that span several hundred years of American furniture history.
As I walked around the class today for several hours, however, all I heard was the typical Follansbee mantra: “It won’t fit? Hit it harder. Harder!” Sometimes they obeyed him.
By the way, Follansbee is one of the living treasures of the early American furniture craft. He’s the writer of Popular Woodworking Magazine’s “Arts & Mysteries” column. If there’s one column that makes you subscribe to the magazine, “Arts & Mysteries” should be it.
— Christopher Schwarz