Ash table with plant-holder centerpiece designed and crafted by Walter Emann '19
In the fifty years that have elapsed since 1969, when legendary faculty member Andy Franz first started sharing his exceptional skills and knowledge with students, Princeton Day School has become renowned for the quality and distinctiveness of its wood and furniture design program. Veteran arts department member and photography teacher Eileen Hohmuth-Lemonick described Franz as "significantly influenced by the time he spent working with the great designer George Nakashima. He had a passion and energy that affected many students."
Furniture and wood design instructor Chris Maher has continued Franz's work and added his own signature to the PDS program. "I teach Furniture Design in the Upper School. We do much more than woodworking, and I often have students who do not work with the material at all. My background and education are in design, and this is the primary focus of the work we are doing. That said, I also have a deep passion for woodworking and spend a good deal of time with my advanced class balancing old-world processes with a contemporary approach to design. All students begin the design process in their sketchbooks, working gesturally to start to develop an idea. These rough concepts are then rendered in either Sketchup, Fusion or Solidworks. From there, we typically create 3-D print prototypes or create maquettes or connection details."
Above: The spacious wood and design studio at PDS is an innovation center encompassing everything from old-world woodworking processes to sophisticated explorations of contemporary design.
A testimony to the strength of the program at PDS is the fact that this summer marked 16 straight years in which a Princeton Day School student has qualified for the bi-annual national AWFS Fresh Wood student competition. "PDS is the only private school whose students have been admitted to the competition," Mr. Maher stated. A wooden table created at PDS by recent graduate Walter Emann '19 was exhibited in the competition finals held in Las Vegas in July, which Emann attended. It was also the second time that Emann, who was a co-recipient of the Andy Franz Woodworking Award in 2019, was named a finalist in the AWFS show.
Now a freshman at Oberlin College, Emann is the epitome of the PDS student woodworker and designer who has developed not only the skills but a passion for particular stylistic approaches. "I've always had an appreciation for the work of George Nakashima. He emphasized preserving the natural beauty, the 'soul' of the tree when making furniture, which means keeping the live edge, choosing wood with the most lively and soulful grain patterns and textures, and incorporating smooth, crisp, simple geometry where necessary. In addition to expressing Nakashima's influence, I also just wanted to create a crazy-interesting piece, since Chris Klein '19, a crazy-interesting guy, gave me the big slab of ash [the light wood that makes up most of the tabletop]." Emann also spent last spring working on a centerpiece for the middle of the table, which features a plant pot as seen in the drawing below. "This brings some life out from the center," he explained, "and really finishes the piece."
"In the architecture and design program, rather than following the antiquated woodworking model of a class of kids all building the same thing and following a pre-made blueprint, our students all design their own work. This is really a program strength and one of the things that sets up apart" Mr. Maher observes. "Another thing that separates the program at PDS from other schools is that students have the opportunity to explore this work with me in Lower, Middle and Upper School. The Lower School is what we'd consider a woodworking class, the Middle School balances traditional woodworking with design and the Upper School uses design as the backbone of the class."
Two current students who exemplify this advanced design process in different ways are Ari Nagelberg '20 and Abby Weinstein '20. "Ari has been drawn to conventional woodworking techniques and challenging himself yearly to elevate his skillset by exploring a vast array of increasingly challenging processes and techniques. Abby, on the other hand, is coming off of a summer course in experimental materials at RISD. While Abby also has a strong skill set and has worked with a variety of processes, her main interest recently is in exploring contemporary design and alternate sustainable material technology."
You can learn more about the visual and design arts at PDS at pds.org.
Sketch of centerpiece for the table designed by Walter Emann '19. The table was in the finalist exhibition at the bi-annual national AWFS Fresh Wood student competition, held in Las Vegas this summer.
Table designed and crafted by Chris Klein '19
Materials and equipment in use at the wood and design studio