Sights on the Horizon

July 23, 2019
Sarah Turner


A student cuts wood with a dovetail saw

Each spring, North Bennet Street School launches a new class of graduates to pursue their fields of craft and trade. Every group is different, made from the many experiences our students bring with them.

They come to NBSS from accomplished careers, from work and service both near and far, from previous studies and previous fields. Together, they form a completely unique cohort – who, for this moment, represent what this School can be.

As I learn about the crafts and trades that our students are both preserving and advancing—I am struck by the character of the commitment. The fields at NBSS are not ones that take center stage—rather, they play a supporting role to culture and our lives. Piano Technicians and Violin Makers will prepare the instruments for musicians to play, making someone else’s sound and performance possible. Bookbinders will present and preserve the words of authors and poets, giving a vehicle to other people’s ideas. Across our fields, our graduates will build, fix, and restore, offering their work to people and communities.

I’m drawn to this approach: working on behalf of others as a way to contribute our specialized knowledge to something larger than only our own work. It’s a position that requires some modesty, some stepping back. The School was founded on efforts like these: oriented toward community, working to help others. And while our methods are different, much of this spirit still exists.

Like our graduates, NBSS is at the beginning of a new chapter—and as we know, building things takes time.

Some of our graduates will embrace the traditions their studies were built upon, enjoying the lineage of which they are a part. Others will chafe at history, wanting to find a new way forward and to help old methods adapt. We are in an amalgam of the old, the new, and the not yet. History, approaches, ways to work and live are being re-framed and re-fitted all the time. Our fields, while tried and true, are adapting to today’s needs, ideas, and values. Our graduates will advance these fields, responsive to their own strengths and interests, and to the world and its changes.

Like our graduates, NBSS is at the beginning of a new chapterand as we know, building things takes time. Being trained in the crafts gave me a deeper understanding of this. So much of making is slow, and yet suddenly: there is the thing before you. Pass after pass with a scraper, stitch by stitch, cut after cut, preparing materials to fit and come together: making by hand asks us trust in slowness. We must not rush the finishing, be patient with each pass of the plane, and notice that our marks still show. It’s in this slow time, this over-and-over time, that new ideas can take hold. Our minds are both occupied and free.

NBSS is known for preparing students for work and for working-lives. It is a school known for teaching practical application and usefulness, coupled with integrity and beauty. But NBSS is a bigger effort than what happens in our shops, over a program of study. It is a network, extending out and back through each of us. Like our new graduates, we will keep our sights on the horizon, remembering that our efforts will aggregate. This is how you build a life, a livelihood, a School: effort by effort, over time.

This story is part of the Summer 2019 issue of Benchmarks magazine. See more Benchmarks stories here, or download a pdf of the entire issue.