The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes a distinguished graduate from one of our nine full-time programs based on their professional accomplishments, contributions to their industry, and promotion of excellence in craft via schools and organizations.
Nominations are accepted by alumni, students, current and former members of the faculty, administrative staff, the Board of Directors, Overseers, and Program Advisory Committee members. Any graduate of a NBSS program who is not currently a member of North Bennet Street School administration is eligible to receive the award. Nominations open in February and the Award is presented at graduation in June. All Distinguished Alumni are listed on a plaque on permanent display at the School.
- 2016 - Janet A. Collins CF ’96
- 2015 - Kevin Kelly VM ’92
- 2014 - Jeffrey Refinati LK ’02
- 2013 - Brandon Gordon PC ’02
- 2012 - Brent Hull PC ’93
- 2011 - Barbara Adams Hebard BB ’90
- 2010 - Eva Martin JM ’03
- 2009 - Jock Gifford JM ’97, CF ’01
- 2008 - Peter Feinmann CA ’83
- 2007 - David Stanwood PA ’79
- 2006 - James Reid-Cunningham BB ’90
- 2005 - Brian Kelly CF ’84
While a student at NBSS, Janet Collins worked for our Workshop Program. Upon graduating, she became the Workshop Program Director (now known as Continuing Education Director), where she grew the program in number of courses and enrollments. In 2003, she secured the donation of a dozen lathes, which led to her launching woodturning workshops at the School. Her passion for education and woodworking deepened while working with the School, impacting hundreds of students.
Janet is currently a Continuing Education instructor at NBSS, and a teacher at the Dartmouth College Student Woodshop. She previously taught at Vermont Woodworking School, Snow Farm Craft School, WoodenBoat School, Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking, and The Furniture Institute. Janet has participated in woodturning symposia and demonstrations for schools, museums, and organizations in New England. In 2006, she was awarded Furniture Maker of the Year by the Vermont Wood Manufacturing Association. Janet continues to make furniture and turn wood at her shop in Vermont. View her portfolio of work here.
After graduating from North Bennet Street School in 1992, Kevin Kelly did violin repair work in San Francisco and Boston. In 1998, he returned to NBSS as a teacher in the Violin Making & Repair program.
Since 2002, he has run his own studio in Boston, making new instruments, performing repairs and restorations of historic instruments, and maintaining and adjusting instruments for musicians.
Kevin has researched and investigated the original system of design of the violin family and has published articles on the subject in The Strad magazine and presented his research at the Violin Society of America’s annual meetings and the Oberlin Violin Makers’ Workshop.
Kevin is an advisor to the NBSS Violin Making & Repair program and a consultant for the Department of Musical Instruments at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Fine Musical Instrument division of Skinner Auctioneers.
Jeffrey Refinati began his career in locksmithing after high school and has been active in the profession for more than a decade. In 2004, after graduating from the NBSS Locksmithing program in Boston, Jeff became the institutional locksmith for Massachusetts College of Art & Design.
Jeff is a substitute teacher for the NBSS Locksmithing & Security Technology program, engaged NBSS students as interns and has hired NBSS alumni. In addition, Jeff established a hardware donation program for NBSS from the Massachusetts College of Art & Design. He is a member of the Associated Locksmiths of America, Safe and Vault Technicians Association, American Society for Information Science and ClearStar, and holds an Axis Certified Professional designation, a Silver Certification for Lenel OnGuard access control systems and a Massachusetts low-voltage Systems Technician “D” license. Jeff takes classes in art and design and dabbles in web design in his spare time.
The former department head of the NBSS Locksmithing & Security Technology program, Dave Troiano, praises Jeff: “He is outstanding as a professional locksmith and security specialist and all an around great person. Jeff is most deserving of this award.”
At the 2013 graduation ceremony at Old North Church, Alumni Association president Ken Gilbert, BB '10 presented the Distinguished Alumni Award to Brandon Gordon PC '02.
Brandon Gordon worked for a custom home builder for five years before enrolling in the Preservation Carpentry program at NBSS. His passion for the craft began while working on his grandmother’s second empire Victorian home built in 1885. Brandon’s interest in architectural details and the significance of historic homes and buildings started him on the path to a successful career in the preservation carpentry field.
Brandon’s interests and NBSS experience serve him well in his current position as a project leader and supervisor of the National Park Service Historic Preservation Training Center (HPTC) in Frederick, Maryland where he works on a wide range of structures including the White House. “I have used the knowledge and skills gained from NBSS to accomplish work on a variety of historic structures. My (NBSS) education has allowed me to direct highly-skilled preservation professionals in the use of special tools and techniques needed to accomplish preservation projects.”
At the 2012 graduation at Old North Church, Alumni Association president Denise Fenoglio JM' 06 presented the Distinguished Alumni Award to Brent Hull PC '93.
Brent Hull is a 1993 graduate of the Preservation Carpentry program where he studied under Robert Adam. After graduating, he returned to his native Texas and started a company. From a modest beginning, working in his brother’s garage, and a lot of hard work, Brent went on to build the Brent Hull Companies, which now employs over 50 artisans and related staff. He runs a successful construction and consulting firm, is the exclusive millwork provider for the Winterthur Museum, has restored historic courthouses in Texas and worked on many private residences including that of Barbara Streisand.
Beyond the commercial success, Brent is a prolific writer in the field of traditional interior designs and moldings and has publishing several books. Brent enjoys sharing his knowledge with his customers and the general public on the merits of traditional design and craftsmanship.
Story by Bill Rainford, PC '11. More info about Brent's award is on Bill's blog here.
At the 2011 graduation ceremony, Alumni Council member Ken Gilbert BB ’10 presented the annual Distinguished Alumni Award to Barbara Adams Hebard. Gilbert’s comments and the acceptance remarks made by Hebard’s husband (Barbara was at a bookbinding conference and unable to attend), painted a picture of a warm and generous professional who has enriched the bookbinding community for decades.
Upon graduation from NBSS in 1990, Barbara Hebard was employed by the Boston Athenaeum as a book conservator. During her 18 years at the Athenaeum, she worked on books once owned by many luminaries including George Washington and John Quincy Adams as well as hundreds of other 18th and 19th century imprints and manuscripts. In 2009, she became the conservator of the John J. Burns Library at Boston College. In this special collection library, she is in charge of the preservation and conservation of two hundred and sixty thousand rare books and sixteen million archival items. These are exceptional achievements and any individual who accomplished them is worthy of this award.
But Barbara is known to her colleagues for much more. She is a Fellow of The International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, a Professional Associate of The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, a Board Member of The New England Conservation Association and a member of The Guild of Bookworkers and The Association of College and Research Libraries.
Barbara regularly displays her work at shows, lectures, and writes for publications. She has served as an exhibition curator and volunteers her time in many ways in the bookbinding community including as an active member of the North Bennet Street School community where she has served as an Overseer, Chair of the Alumni Steering Committee and a Bookbinding Program Advisor. Barbara maintains a contact list of bookbinding graduates and an email broadcast list. NBSS Bookbinding graduates regularly receive emails from her with relevant information ranging from job opportunities to educational opportunities to items for sale. Each year, she stops by the classroom to make new entries in her work-bench genealogy—a document that traces the occupants of every workbench in Bookbinding. For students and graduates, it’s both interesting to learn who preceded you at that bench and a wonderful reminder of the rich legacy of Bookbinding graduates.
Barbara’s warmth, thoughtfulness and generosity shape in big and small ways the bookbinding community at NBSS, in Boston and beyond.
Photo: Kerry Burke, Boston College
In 2010, Eva Martin moved back to the United States after working for several years in Queensland, Australia where she distinguished herself with her exceptional jewelry designs and fabrication. In the years since her graduation, Eva has won several major awards including the 2006 Saul Bell Design Award Grand Prize for her Carousseling Cufflinks and she was a finalist for the same award in 2009. Eva was the recipient of the 2008 Lapidary Journal Jewelry Arts Award and her sterling silver Queensland Sugar Spoon was designated “Best Memento” in the Tourism Queensland memento competition in 2006.
Unable to attend the presentation, Martin expressed her indebtedness to NBSS in remarks read by Alumni Council Chair, Dennis McCarten, (VM ’06): “At NBSS I began to understand just how deeply satisfying and meaningful a career in craftsmanship could be… I still imagine my pieces will be scrutinized by Ro with her eagle eye and loupe before they leave my bench. It keeps me from producing anything but my best work. I am greatly indebted to both Ro and Jock and to NBSS for a career which is so deeply satisfying —one that makes me smile from ear to ear.”
Rosemary (Ro) Trainor, NBSS Jewelry Instructor remarked, “there are times when we interview candidates for the Jewelry program who say, “I’m coming here because I want to be like Eva Martin” and I say, “Well then move your bed in here, because as a student she was at her bench ALL the time. She was in early and stayed late every single day… she was motivated and focused on what she wanted to achieve and I do believe she would have moved her bed in here if she could have. It was a pleasure to be her instructor.”
Architect, jeweler, and furniture maker John F. (Jock) Gifford is the founding Principal of the nationally recognized residential design and construction firm Design Associates in Cambridge and Nantucket, and is a graduate of two of the school’s crafts training programs—Jewelry Making & Repair in 1997, and Cabinet & Furniture Making in 2001. He has served as Vice Chair of the school’s Board of Directors, and taught classes at the school as a volunteer.
Gifford and his design firm have been regularly featured on the PBS series “This Old House” and in national residential design magazines such as House & Garden, House Beautiful, and Home. The firm’s work has also been included in a number of books on home design.
“Any one of these accomplishments would have qualified Jock for recognition,” said Dennis McCarten, chairperson of the school’s Alumni Council. “But the sheer scope of his dedication to the quality of life and of instruction at North Bennet Street School left us no doubt that he was the right choice.”
Peter Feinmann is the President and Founder of the award-winning residential remodeling and construction firm Feinmann, Inc., in Lexington, Massachusetts. He is widely acknowledged for his effort in bringing greater financial discipline to the construction management process, and for the overall excellence of his company's residential design and construction work. The firm was named 2008 Remodeler of the Year by the Builder's Association of Greater Boston, and received a Market Leaders Award in 2007 from Professional Remodeler Magazine. Their work has also been featured in leading design and architectural publications including Design New England, Home and Garden, and Bob Villa's American Home.
Peter earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Trinity College in the late 1970s and had already taken some architectural courses before he graduated from NBSS in 1983. From there, he worked for several years doing residential development and construction management until started his own business in 1987.
"Throughout all his success, Peter has never forgotten his roots at North Bennet Street School," said Heather Profitt PC ’04, Chairperson Emeritus of the Alumni Steering Committee. "The award recognizes not just Peter's past achievements, but also his continuing dedication to the field of residential construction."
David Stanwood graduated from the North Bennet Street School in 1979. Stanwood invented a fundamental measurement system for pianos called Touch Weight Metrology, based on his Equation of Balance in the early 1990s. The system isolates fundamental components in the internal workings of the keyboard in a way that was never possible before.
The system employs customized tools, techniques, and computer software to custom build a piano action to a pianist's unique needs. The system has also been used to help pianists with injuries such as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. "It took me ten years to develop and refine the Equation of Balance," said Stanwood, "and that creation is my lifetime achievement. It makes a pathway for others to follow in the art and craft of piano making and it empowers us as piano technicians. We are in a position to make pianos easier to play and help the piano player to be more of an artist and more able to truly convey feelings through music which is the magic of piano." Pianos balanced with Stanwood's methods are noted for their flawless playing characteristics.
Kent Swafford, president of the Piano Technicians Guild, said, "Stanwood's work fills important gaps in piano knowledge. As a result, it is now possible to elevate the quality and value of older restored pianos to equal and even exceed that of new pianos."
Stanwood runs a full-service piano workshop in West Tisbury, Massachusetts on Martha's Vineyard and consults for piano technicians worldwide who are trained to use his techniques. Visit David's website for more information.
James Reid-Cunningham first became interested in bookbinding during the mid-1970s and took classes at the Harcourt Bindery in Boston. Beginning in 1984, he worked at Harvard doing book repair at the Graduate School of Design which taught him how little he knew about bookbinding and conservation at the time. He always wanted to receive better training in bookbinding, but at that time, one had to move to England or France to train as a bookbinder. He and his wife had two small children, so moving to Europe was not an option. When the bookbinding program opened at NBSS, he knew it was his chance to follow a dream.
James worked part-time at Harvard while at NBSS and, after graduation, the Harvard Design School created a position for him as a professional conservator. He worked at Harvard until 2003 when he moved to the Boston Athenaeum to oversee the conservation laboratory. James is now the Associate Director for Digital Programs and Preservation at the Athenaeum. He has always enjoyed teaching and has taught at many venues around the United States, and is currently the adjunct lecturer in book conservation at the graduate art conservation program at Buffalo State College.
Brian Kelly is the first recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award, and was selected because of his life-long commitment to his craft and teaching that craft to students of all ages and abilities. Brian taught at NBSS for ten years, inspiring beginners and experienced students alike. While filling in for a friend for a semester in the Wayland Public Schools, Kelly discovered that he loved teaching young teens. He subsequently became a engineering and technology teacher at Wellesley Middle School.
Brian’s middle school curriculum is derived from the Sloyd craft teaching method used at NBSS. In 8th grade, the students make a piece of furniture, such as a coffee table, bedside table, or bookcase. He guides them through the entire process from drafting to finishing, and coaches them through successes and mistakes. “In our classes, kids learn how to resolve problems,” Kelly says. “They experience failure and how to recover. This is important developmentally and contributes to all their academic achievement.”