Jesslyn Stanley has a unique perspective into life at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, having spent six months here as both a Furniture Intensive student and Furniture Intensive assistant. She also apprenticed for a former CFC student who owns a professional furniture company in Atlanta, Georgia. Read on to learn more about Jesslyn’s experience at the CFC, and how she plans to put her education to use.
What inspired you to learn woodworking?
I have always liked to work with my hands, and growing up as a kid my uncles always called me their “best worker” because I would come over and help them do chores. It was something I liked to do, to use my hands. When I got older, I got tired of buying Ikea furniture and throwing it away in two years. I got my mom in on it, and we found some old pallet wood, and that was kind of it. I made a headboard, and I kind of got addicted to it, to the idea of being able to manipulate wood into all of these different things that are necessary for our lives in some capacity. That is what inspired me, putting my hands on wood and realizing that this is a really cool field to dive into.
What were you doing before you came to the CFC?
I was living in Atlanta, Georgia and I had been apprenticing with a former student, Kendrick Anderson, for about one and a half years. I think I had reached the ceiling of where I could go with him: he has a business, so his ability to teach me was limited. He recommended that I check out the CFC. So I did, and got in, and packed up my stuff and came.
How did you decided on what course to take at the CFC?
Kendrick had taken the twelve week [Furniture Intensive], and I was at a place where I did not want to wait around for the nine month program [Nine-month Comprehensive] to start. When I called the school…Dorrie told me that there were still scholarships left. I applied, and I got the scholarship, so that sort of sped things up for me. I applied in February, and learned that I got the scholarship in April. The nine month was appealing to me, but I was eager to get started as soon as possible, so the twelve week was the best option for me.
You have been both a student and assistant here at the CFC, can you describe the difference between these two experiences for you?
Well, I loved every second of my twelve week when I was a student. Tommy - a fellow student - and I, we calculated that we spent something like 800 hours in the shop over that time. And it never felt like that, it was always very enjoyable! And I think it was very hard to comprehend all that you had taken in because you did not always get to perform the task that you were taught, even though somewhere in your memory they were there. So it was definitely what I was looking for, as far as learning. And to showcase the skills that you already had, that was cool too. Most of us did not come in blind to woodworking, we had some kind of knowledge. So, being able to use the skills you had but then put them to a greater level of excellence. You were striving to make it look perfect, rather than just getting it done. That was great, because I had never done that before.
But being an assistant was a strange transition. As a student you are focused on yourself, on what you are going to do, and all of your time is directed to that. But being an assistant, at the beginning, I found it weird because you want to build something while you are here, but you have to be available to the first job, which is to be an assistant. So I found that to be hard. In making what I made, I wanted to focus, but I had to keep a window open so that when Tim asked me to do something I could stop what I was doing and go and do that thing. This is totally fine, this is what I was here to do, but it can be internally frustrating if you were in the middle of something and you forget what you were doing. So I needed to learn how to prioritize, to decide when was a good time to something that was really difficult or precise and required a lot of attention, so that I could still be available and not feel frustrated.
But overall, I loved being an assistant. It was cool to see the other side of it, and have the pressure off. You just get to rewatch what you learned without the pressure of having to perform it, which was really nice.
You were assisting Tim Rousseau, but had taken the class under Aaron Fedarko, right?
Yes, Aaron was my teacher. Both are amazing, but very different. It has been great to watch. In my view Aaron is very mathematical – everything is written down, and he is going to cut it exactly where he plans to cut it. Tim is kind of a “reality guy” in my mind - you go off of the reality that you created, but everything is still really precise and clean. It is great to see both sides. Other teachers come in too, who are very different than both of them. It helps you realize that woodworking isn’t just one woodworker, it is literally a world of woodworkers, and they all do it differently.
You mentioned working on something during your assistantship, what did you make?
I am finishing up two lounge chairs that will have a set of cushions for the seat and back. I made two because I thought, why not? I am already doing all the setups for one, I might as well make a pair.
What role do you expect woodworking to play in your future?
My plan is to get a job working in the field with someone for a time. The responsibility of creating my own shop right now – financially and logistically – is really difficult. I would like to work for someone for a couple of years and slowly build up some savings to begin the venture of buying my own machines. I know what I want do, so the question is now, where do I want to do it? I know this is what I want to do, I know it this makes me happy, but now it is a matter of finding the place where I can do that. Currently I am looking at Colorado, so we will see.
How are you doing your search?
Through the internet and through social media. Most of the places I am looking at do not do fine furniture…and I think it would be cool to see that side of it. I would also be able to bring my skills to their business.
What do you like the most about the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship?
I think that in the six months that I have spent here I have felt the most peaceful that I have ever felt. That is to say, you get critiqued and people tell you “you could do this” but it is in a spirit of growth, not in a way that pushes you away from what you are doing. You have people here like Yuri, who has done all of this amazing stuff, but she is humble in how she approaches you. Even Tim – they have put in their time, but they still give their time to help those of us who are still trying to learn and achieve certain goals. They approach us with a certain kindness, and that allows you to feel safe. For me that is important. It is not a hustle, you are not trying to compete and “beat” everyone. It is more like you are here for yourself – and that may sound selfish, but it is in a good way. You are here for yourself: whether this is the career you want or whether it is a hobby, there is something internally that is driving you to do this. To connect with that force, and to have someone else help you push that force along - that is really cool. And you may find out you hate woodworking in the end, but you did it! This is an environment where it is safe. Everyone is so nice, even…in the office. Everyone is just nice, I have not had one bad encounter.
Are you going to come back?
I would love to, but I don’t know when that would be. I would love to take the Turning Intensive…there are classes that I would love be able to take or to assist. I would totally come back in a heartbeat, for anything, and I would bring other people because it is just fun! It is just good.
What are some of you other interests other than woodworking?
I really like the outdoors. I like being able to get out of the concrete jungle. I lived in Atlanta, which is very much a concrete jungle, and I grew up in the South, in the country. There is something in me that always wants that peace that I can find in nature…