Woodworking and More | St. Lawrence University Adirondack Semester

Woodworking and More

by: Julia Crocker & Caroline Green

“Where’s Michael?” someone asked as we traipsed through Michael Frenette’s rustic woodshop near Tupper Lake. We then heard Michael shout from his house—“Tea time!—and knew that he expected us to congregate in his cramped, homey kitchen. As we filed into his house, Michael greeted us with a teapot in his hand. Once seated, we helped ourselves to fresh pastries from Larkin’s, the gas station and bakery on the route into Tupper Lake, and Michael poured us tea or coffee according to our preferences. We sipped our hot beverages as Michael taught us the correct tea party etiquette and shared his Irish teapot’s story. When our cups were drained and the pastries devoured, we moved back to the woodshop to begin our woodworking for the day.

Michael Frenette is a well-known Adirondack woodworker who lives in Tupper Lake. Before teaching woodworking to the Adirondack Semester students, he had built timber frame homes, worked to restore Great Camp Santanoni, and helped to disassemble Anne LaBastille’s cabin for a display at the Adirondack Experience: the Museum on Blue Mountain Lake. Every Monday and Tuesday since mid-semester break, we have gone to Michael’s to work on our individual projects. Although the class is called “woodworking,” Michael makes sure to leave plenty of time for conversation. Through this experience, we have gained a greater understanding of Adirondack culture, met Michael’s family, and learned some woodworking along the way.

On our first day back from mid-semester break, we reconvened at Michael’s and began to brainstorm the individual woodworking projects each of us would undertake. As we shouted out ideas, Michael told us what was possible to complete in our relatively short timeframe. Once our ideas were narrowed down, we each chose a project which spoke to us. Then, with Michael’s help, we took turns walking around his shed and woodshop in order to pick pieces of wood that would help our projects come to life.

When we each started to shape our piece of wood, it became clear that no two projects are the same. Julia decided to make cutting boards, Langley a pizza peel, and Sophie a milking stool similar to the one in Michael’s kitchen. Meanwhile, Hope is assembling drawers, Zach is constructing an olive oil box, and Tim is working on a bass. With the help of Cassie DiMarino, Caroline and Elsa carved spoons from a tree they cut down themselves on Michael’s property. Though their spoons came from the same tree, each turned out as unique as their two different visions and personalities.

The first half of the semester we did woodworking with Everett Smith, and Adirondack boat builder. Everett helped us to make paddles to connect us more with all of the paddling we have done this semester. Throughout our time with Everett we became acquainted with the tools and skills we would need later to complete out individual projects with Michael. We gained skill with the planer, band saw, sander, and chisels. While we know that paddles are an important part of our lives at Arcadia and will remind us of our time on the ponds and lakes in the Adirondacks, we were excited to be able to pick our own projects to create with Michael.

Each Monday and Tuesday morning, half of us have loaded into the van and made the short drive from Arcadia to Michael’s. As the weeks have passed, we’ve watched the boards of wood turn into pieces of art. Now that it is near the end of the semester, this is the last week of woodworking. Every student’s project reflects the goal they set for themselves. As Elsa finished sanding her spoon, she remarked, “It makes you appreciate things that are often mass produced.” In today’s society, the necessity of woodworking has become somewhat obsolete due to the fast-paced consumer culture many of us inhabit, but from our woodworking classes we have learned that this unique art form remains a valuable and worthy endeavor, for industrial production can rarely capture the care and beauty of a hand-crafted spoon or milking stool. Though Everett and Michael have unique characteristics, they are both dedicated to passing on their beautiful craft to today’s generation of Arcadians. Their enthusiasm for what they help us create is contagious and sparks new interests in us. As Sophie shaped the legs of her stool with an axe, she exclaimed, “I feel like a pioneer woman!” Her feeling is indicative of the excitement we feel and the new skills we have fostered throughout our semester.

Although woodworking has come to an end, our friendship with Michael will last for many more years. His house is more than a place just for woodworking; it is a second home for us in the Adirondacks. Even though we will soon be alumni of the program, we know we will always be welcome at Michael’s and look forward to returning.