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Beloit Blocks: Woodworking with Mark Klassen (pics)

June 9, 2013

If the eight students of Mark Klassen’s woodworking course didn’t know how to use a saw or fit a wooden joint mid-May, no matter. They learned.

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“It’s everybody’s first time, basically,” says Klassen, associate professor of art and instructor for the hands-on Beloit Blocks class. “They had a series of exercises that were just basic technical woodworking skills.”

Though described as a studio art course, none of the students who earned a unit of credit in the course, which wrapped up last week, were art majors.

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“It’s a class full of very useful things that you’ll use in life,” explains Bianca Leoni’14, a rising senior and biology major. Beyond learning concrete skills like milling and joining and using power tools, she says she came to appreciate the process associated with planning out each aspect of a woodworking project, from the initial sketches to measuring, cuts, and construction.

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The longer sessions of the Block course lent themselves well to that process, Klassen says. “There’s a physicality to what we’re doing. It works really well for wordworking and artmaking.”

Beyond their time in the shop, Klassen and his students also visited artists’ studios and the state forestry department’s wood products lab. For a final project, students were tasked with finding “an underutilized space on campus, a forgotten space, an unused space, and they had to find a way to make it functional,” Klassen says.

Leoni’s project? A cabinet rigged to a pulley system, meant to be set up in the space between the stairwells of Pearsons. It illustrates that balance of function and innovation that Klassen hoped to impress upon the students.

“In the art world, you often make a distinction between being creative and utility. That’s where the individual projects come in,” Klassen says.

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