The people who study at North Bennet Street School view their careers as their calling, often leaving desk jobs to embark on a life of making hand-crafted products and honing timeless skills. Korean Air's in-flight magazine, Morning Calm, profiled NBSS as one of their "World Academies," capturing the devotion of our students, faculty, and teaching philosophy.
As article author Beth Rooney writes, "The workshops at North Bennet Street School (NBSS) in Boston, Massachusetts, are peaceful, almost meditative. Bookbinders sit hunched over benches, adding gold leaf to letters on tomes' spines. Jewelers use tiny blowtorches to make nearly imperceptible alterations to silver bands. Carpenters trim chair legs with hand planes that create strips of wood so thin they feel like ribbons.
NBSS is full of people who want to build goods from scratch or give new life to old things, and in doing so build better lives for themselves. This can feel like an anachronism in our increasingly tech-dependent, virtual lives, but the students and instructors at NBSS show that such seemingly archaic careers can lead to great fulfillment, especially in a world where so many things are designed to be disposable.
... Students here spend countless hours in class and countless more after the teachers have gone home. "I'm pretty sure students would sleep here if we didn't close the building," says Jeff Altepeter, department head of the Bookbinding program.
Such devotion is at the heart of the school's philosophy. When it was founded, NBSS followed a Swedish system of learning called sloyd. This method, whose ethos continues to guide the school, focuses on the development of the whole person. In other words, the school seeks to teach students not just how to make a living, but how to make a good life. "I guess I think about it like this: What do you want your Tuesdays to look like?" says [Cabinet & Furniture making student] Aspen Golann. "I want mine to be fulfilling. Because those Tuesdays make up your life. I want to spend my life doing something that interests me and provides me with a way to make a living."
...For many, the opportunities that NBSS provides are an appealing alternative to more commonplace jobs. "I was in finance for about 15 years before I came here," says Mike Turner, a Cabinet & Furniture Making student. "And that office, well, it was mind-numbing and it started to wear on me ... I took a continuing education course here, really enjoyed it, so I quit my job and decided to come here."
NBSS is full of people like Turner who want to build goods from scratch or give new life to old things, and in doing so build better lives for themselves. This can feel like an anachronism in our increasingly tech-dependent, virtual lives, but the students and instructors at NBSS show that such seemingly archaic careers can lead to great fulfillment, especially in a world where so many things are designed to be disposable. It's no wonder, then, that many at NBSS view their careers as vocations.
"People are here because they have a mission," says Dan Faia, the department head of the Cabinet & Furniture Making program. "They're here to learn a skill. You can't stop doing it, because you love it. I live this, because I love it. It's my work, it's my hobby, it's my life."
Photos and text by Beth Rooney.