Pushing burgeoning skills to the limits, students in Selkirk College’s Fine Woodworking Program had their design ingenuity and presentation abilities put to the test before an all-star industry panel of judges.
Based out of Nelson’s Silver King Campus, the nine-month program entered its final weeks with the fifth annual Student Design Competition that challenged teams of learners to come up with an original piece of sculptural furniture. After weeks of teamwork in the shop, five student teams virtually presented outcomes to a panel of judges that included legendary Canadian fine furniture maker Michael Fortune, esteemed California furniture maker and educator Wendy Maruyama, Fine Woodworking magazine editor Jon Binzen, Woodsong Studio owner Kelly Parker and Spearhead general manager Daniel Rempel.
The winning team in the Fine Woodworking Program’s fifth annual Student Design Competition included: (L-R) Mat Becotte, Rianna Walser, Madelaine Nelson and Jasper Belliveau-Thompson. An esteemed panel of judges from across North America chose the team’s Lapis Lazuli chair as the best sculptural furniture concept.
“There is decades and decades of experience on that judge’s panel, it’s great exposure for students to be connected with some pretty big names in the industry,” says Fine Woodworking Program instructor David Ringheim. “The design is a big part of it, but the ability to put together a clear and exciting presentation is very important. A competition like this sets them up to the realities of life and the business, which is ultimately getting people to appreciate and buy your work.”
Student Talent Impresses Judges
The broad theme of designing sculptural furniture was open to interpretation, but required learners to present a concept that could be built in 25 hours, established a price-point, identified potential buyers and explained the background of the design. The five concepts presented included the Rien Lamp, the Elementable, the Lapis Lazuli chair, the Covid Couch and the Twist with a Stick shelf.
Judges expressed how impressed they were with the skills of all 19 students in the program’s cohort, calling the designs “intriguing,” “appealing,” “bold” and a “reflection of our times.” The experts challenged each group on their proposal with tough questions and provided learners with invaluable input on their projects.
Students in the Elementable group go through their presentation under the watchful eye of a panel of experts (right) that included Michael Fortune, Wendy Maruyama, Jon Binzen, Kelly Parker and Daniel Rempel.
After deliberating virtually from their locations across North America, judges chose the Lapis Lazuli chair as the winner. The team of Jasper Belliveau-Thompson, Madelaine Nelson, Mat Becotte and Rianna Walser described the chair as a “unique offering to the design world that brings joy and wow factor to a space… a statement seat that will hold the user securely and surround them with the physicality of the carver’s energy and craftsmanship.”
“It was great to have them go through our ideas and the flaws of our project,” says Walser, who moved from Chilliwack to take the program. “They provided input that helped us solve the problems of our piece and that was an exciting part. To have the nerves and the energy of a presentation like that, those are all skills that are transferable to whatever we pursue after graduation.”
Taking Concept to Reality
The Lapis Lazuli is a large cubed chair constructed using stack lamination and carved to represent natural lines that are connected to area forests. The cost of materials and labour to build the chair is estimated at $2,155 and based on market research directed at high-end interior designers, put the sale price of the piece at $7,570.
“They took a very clear line on what they thought sculptural furniture was by taking a simple form and turning it into an organic shape by freehand carving,” says Ringheim. “It’s not a piece that fits in every home, but it’s very in-your-face sculptural furniture. It hit all the points that we asked them to hit for the judges.”
The miniature version of the Lapus Lazuli chair that won the design competition. Program instructors will now help the four students take the concept to reality in the shops on the Silver King Campus.
As the program heads into its final weeks, Ringheim and faculty assistant Scott Stevens will help the competition winners bring their concept to reality in the shop. The finished Lapis Lazuli chair will then be raffled off at the program’s year-end show in May (pending BC Provincial Health Officer approval).
With all students energetically completing year-end projects, Ringheim is grateful for how the program was able to successfully operate under tight pandemic health and safety protocols. Trades-based programs on the Silver King Campus have been in-person since June 2020, providing the vital hands-on learning and skill development. Even the annual design competition had the unexpected outcome of gathering together an illustrious panel of judges virtually to help mentor the future of fine woodworking.
“COVID kind of forced our hand, but also opened up a great opportunity,” Ringheim says of his modified approach to the academic year. “We may go with this format for the design competition next year because the reality is that a lot more work like this is being done online, so it’s something that everyone needs to work on and build. Being able to present effectively in a digital format is an important skill for our graduates to take with them.”