In the Making: Charlie Flowers

July 28, 2020
Kristen Odle

“You can’t deny when something is reaching out to you.”

Charlie Flowers CF ’22 found himself in an unusual spot mid-March. He had just started the Cabinet & Furniture Making program two months prior, having relocated from Maine after a decade of service industry work and a woodworking apprenticeship. As the pandemic forced the School to close the building, he found himself suddenly training at a workbench in his home.

Despite this fast turnaround, his optimism, enthusiasm, and passion for learning his craft remained steadfast throughout. Charlie came to NBSS with the goal of a full-time woodworking career, and he intends to see it through.

I remember the first time Charlie came to visit NBSS. He seemed to float with joy in anticipation or knowing that this is where he needed to be. Or maybe it was just the smell of wood. And through these past few months of being housebound in a new town, I’ve not yet seen his forward-motion waiver.

Below is an excerpt from our conversation, edited for space and clarity.

Kristen Odle: You were able to bring tools home. Do you have any projects you’ve been working on?

Charlie's workbench at home

Charlie Flowers: Yeah. I brought all of my tools home from the School. One thing I wish I grabbed is a drafting board though. But I have a workbench at home in my apartment, and I’m lucky my roommates don’t mind when I’m chopping out mortises and sawing.

KO: Oh, a workbench is ideal.

CF: Yeah. It’s not like the awesome workbenches we have at NBSS—where it doesn’t move around, and the vice is squared. [Laughs]

For now, I’m just kind of just practicing. I’m still in the first semester, and we got about a month in before all this happened. I wish I knew more, but it’s working out. It’s a lot of fun and challenging too. It’s a good way of keeping me in check, I’d say.

KO: It sounds like the program really kept everyone tasked remotely these last few months?

CF: Oh my goodness, yeah. If I didn’t have this, I don’t know what I’d be doing. This is why I moved to Boston.

Charlie on his first day of school
Charlie on his first day of school

KO: I remember one of the first days you came to visit, you drove down from Portland, ME.

CF: Yeah, that was an awesome day.

KO: What were you doing before then?

CF: I was a bartender in Portland for over a decade. I still am part-time here in Boston. I’m a little battling with myself, wishing that I had the resources to just be in School. Be that person who’s there at 7:30am and leaves at 6:00pm.

At the same time, I do appreciate the social aspect of my job. I’ve been doing it for a while. It’s something that I’m better at than woodworking right now. [Laughs]

KO: I can see that as having value though. Even in your service industry job you are making something beautiful for someone. One thing enhances the other.

CF: Definitely. And that’s something that I’m really trying to pay attention to. I think it is an ongoing thing in many aspects of life. But, especially with woodworking. It’s a day to day basis. You kind of just go with what you have, and you learn, you fix things, and correct things as they happen.

KO: When you decided to come to NBSS, what was your end goal?

CF: I wanted to work less as a bartender and more as a woodworker. Flip my work priorities around. I’m super passionate and curious about woodworking. Especially in the early stages, when something is kind of just starting, and you’re really curious about it. And you want to just know everything, and you dive deep into it.

In Portland, I was apprenticing at a local wood shop. Working until 2:00am and then to the wood shop at 7:00am. It wasn’t the healthiest schedule, but at the same time, you can’t deny when something is reaching out to you.

KO: That’s so great. Are there any hurdles for you right now or do you love all of it?

Charlie drafting at home
Charlie drafting at home

CF: I’m loving the process and curiosity very much. Drafting isn’t my strongest suit. But it’s all in the process. And I see how these pieces of the puzzle all fit together to form this solid foundation that works to make you something.

KO: Each step reinforces the next.

CF: Exactly. Similar to being a musician, where you get back as much as you put in. And it’s a lot of fun. It’s not easy. It’s really not easy at all. But, if you try to look at mistakes and rewire that work, you can say, “It’s not a mistake, it’s something telling you that you needed to do something different.”

KO: It sounds like you see the challenges as beneficial to the whole process? As opposed to taking everything and throwing it down and storming out. [Laughs]

CF: Yes. I get frustrated sometimes, for sure. It’s not easy. When you’re learning something new, you’re so hard on yourself. You think, “Why can’t I just do this?” and, “These people make it look so easy.” Well, they’ve been doing it for a long time.

While I definitely get frustrated, I know it’s part of learning more about yourself. And if you need to take a step back and breathe, then that’s the first step to seeing where your roadblock is at that moment.

KO: Yes. Determination is tough.

CF: Oh my goodness, yeah. Absolutely.

KO: What’s been your favorite experience so far in the program?

CF: I really like all the people. How different everybody’s journey is. But we’re all there for the same thing. It’s so cool. And sometimes somebody will say, “Oh, this is what I did. And this clicked, it helped me a lot.” So it forms a really nice community.

Charlie in the process of building a staked high stool
Charlie in the process of building a staked high stool, with plans from the Anarchist’s Design Book from Lost Art Press.

KO: What are you missing most from your bench?

CF: The smell. [smiles]

KO: Oh, that’s a good one.

CF: Yeah, the smell of the wood shops. All the wood shops had this particular smell. And that was one of the first things I experienced visiting was the smell, the sounds. Just being at that particular bench. Just being around other people, all around the same level. And just all in it for the same thing. It’s an amazing, creative community at NBSS. There’s a lot to learn. And not just about woodworking.

KO: What a great answer.

CF: I like it a lot. I miss it…

It’s funny, I moved to Boston for this. And now I don’t feel like I live anywhere besides my room. [laughs] It’s just funny how this happened, the timing of it.

I don’t regret it at all. It’s a new adventure and challenge for me. And even during this situation I still say to myself, “Wow, this happened really fast.” I was in Portland not too long ago, where I had been living for over a decade. And I love Portland, I miss it a lot. But it’s been really cool to just stop and realize – I’m doing it. I’m on my way, one way or another. It’s pretty wild. It’s pretty cool.

Photos by Charlie Flowers. See more of his work on Instagram @chargnar23.

“In the Making” is a series of video interviews with members of our community where we get insight to their lives and work. Learn more about the conversations, and view a full list of interviews on the series homepage.