I met Robert a few years ago when I took a two-week beginning woodworking class at a school in Ontario. I was greatly impressed with his skill and his teaching style and thoroughly enjoyed the course. When I was considering taking another course I learned that he had opened Inside Passage. Since I was very interested in taking another course from Robert, and since it is so close to where I live, I decided to take a one-week course from him in the summer of ’05. While there, I decided to take the nine-month course that fall. I wasn't working at the time, and didn't really have any other commitments, so it was an easy decision for me.
I have to say that my time there was an experience of a lifetime. People arrive there from many different situations and backgrounds, but I considered myself pretty fortunate, at age 51, to be able to just drop everything on short notice and take a 9-month woodworking course. There was a real excitement in the beginning, I think partly because we were the first class to go through the program. I’m sure every class has its own dynamic, but as a group we really seemed to come together from the beginning, and throughout the course we enjoyed a supportive, creative environment. Of course, Robert’s teaching style had a lot to do with fostering that environment. The result is that you learn a great deal from your fellow students, from their good ideas, their successes, and even their mistakes. This is implemented formally in the weekly “walkarounds” where each student talks about the progress of their project, but it also happens on a more informal basis because you are in such close contact with the others and naturally curious about their projects.
As far as the technical skills gained through the program, I feel it was a bargain. I suppose some people can teach themselves the skills, or possibly learn through an apprenticeship, but it was unlikely that I would have ever learned on my own what I took away from that course. It gave me a confidence that I lacked. I didn't know much going into the course, but now I feel that I know how to approach all phases of a project, from concept to completion. We learned a great deal about design. Not just an aesthetic sense, but how to go from idea to sketches, to mockup, to final design, and how to evaluate the design and look for subtle changes that can affect the overall feeling of the piece. I also have a much better understanding of the overall process of furniture building. I now know how to use tools effectively, and how to modify them or make my own for special tasks. When I returned to my shop after completing the course, I noticed that it was almost as if my hands knew what to do without me having to think about it. Don’t get me wrong, I feel that I still have a lot to learn, but I know that this will come from experience. The course let me take a leap to a level of skill and confidence that would have taken me years to achieve.
Roberts Creek is in a beautiful area, and the town itself has a real charm and friendliness. The Pacific Northwest is like nowhere else, and I think people from the East are particularly amazed at its unique beauty.
As the course progresses, you will spend more time in the shop, including weekends and evenings. But the truth is, Roberts Creek doesn't offer that many distractions, and the school is where your friends are. At times the course can be stressful, particularly when you are trying to meet a project deadline. But as I mentioned to another student while I was there, if we weren't working this hard, we wouldn't feel we were getting our money’s worth.
Robert and Yvonne are truly kind and generous people who have thrown all of themselves into this endeavor, and it really shows. Being part of that group gave me a real sense of community. In fact, I still visit occasionally to try to keep that connection and always come home feeling inspired and recharged.