A pair of Selkirk College Fine Woodworking Program alumni had the opportunity to shine in Las Vegas over the summer where they took part in a massive gathering of the industry’s leaders.
The Association of Woodworking & Furnishing Suppliers (AWFS) Fair takes place in Las Vegas every two years where woodworking manufacturing professionals gather to see what’s new and explore what’s next. Recent Selkirk College grads Scott Stevens and Erica Strom earned a free trip to the fair as finalists in AWFS’s Fresh Wood Competition that featured works from both high school and post-secondary students across North America.
At the Association of Woodworking & Furnishing Suppliers (AWFS) Fair in Las Vegas back in July, Selkirk College Fine Woodworking Program students Erica Strom (left) and Scott Stevens (middle left) took part in the prestigious Fresh Wood Competition. The two alumni credit the program and their instructors David Ringheim (middle right) and David Stryck (right) as important elements in their recent success.
“It was confirmation that what we are doing in this program is paying off for students,” says Fine Woodworking Program Instructor David Ringheim, who accompanied his former students to the Nevada desert. “To be recognized internationally is pretty big deal, it’s a feather in the cap for both the students and the program.”
Amongst the hundreds of students who submitted work to the competition, only 43 finalists were flown to Las Vegas to take part in the fair. With his beautiful writing table, Stevens brought home second place in the tables category and Strom was a finalist in the case goods category with her rosewood entertainment stand.
“We were just one small part of the fair and it was huge… bigger than you can comprehend,” says Stevens, adding that the exhibitors took up the space of six football fields inside the Las Vegas Convention Centre. “It’s changed my perspective about my own abilities. It’s helped me to realize that I have talent and it’s something worth pursuing with a bit more venom.”
Third Generation Woodworker
With both his grandfather and father spending careers as woodworkers, it’s no surprise that Stevens has a knack for creating beauty from wood. Growing up in Edmonton, Stevens worked at his father’s cabinet making business while in high school and university. After graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Alberta, Stevens decided to stick with the tools he grew up with rather than head to office high rises.
“I knew that I wasn’t the kind of person to sit behind a desk and work at a computer all day,” says the 29-year-old. “I am more drawn to the tangible, physical work that I did in the summers.”
The writing table that won Selkirk College Fine Woodworking Program alumnus Scott Stevens second place in the Fresh Wood Competition in Las Vegas in July. (Alan Harp Design Photograhy)
His career as a cabinet maker was going along well when Stevens found about the Selkirk College Fine Woodworking Program and decided to take a chance.
“The work I was doing was enjoyable, but it was beginning to get monotonous,” says Stevens. “I wasn’t learning anything new, so I took the opportunity to come to the program. I had a good job in Edmonton and was comfortable, so it took a bit to step out of that comfort zone and return to school.”
As a member of the 2016-2017 Fine Woodworking Program class, Stevens embraced the challenges of returning to student life with a passion for learning.
“I came into the program with a pretty solid background in trades,” he says. “But despite that background, I still learned a plethora of knowledge that I had no idea I could utilize in my toolkit. The knowledge I gained and the ability to refine my skills at my own pace was extremely helpful.”
A Risk Turns Into Reward
Strom grew up in Ontario and excelled in woodworking while in high school, but chose a different path upon graduation and headed to the University of Manitoba to earn a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Anthropology. After graduating from university, she headed west to Revelstoke to immerse herself in the ski culture of British Columbia.
While she worked in different areas of the ski industry, Strom continued to design and make furniture in her spare time. When a friend saw her work, Strom was told about the Selkirk College Fine Woodworking Program and decided to make a shift.
The rosewood entertainment stand created by Selkirk College Fine Woodworking Program Program alumna Erica Strom that was featured in the Fresh Wood Competition in Las Vegas in July. (David Gluns Photo)
“I had to think pretty hard about it, but I knew in my heart that I wasn’t passionate about what I was doing. I wanted to follow something that I really enjoyed,” says the 29-year-old. “Taking raw elements and using your own hands to change those raw elements into something that is usable and beautiful… it’s that process I really enjoy. You have an end result that is tangible, you can touch it, you can feel it, you can look at it. It’s a rewarding result and process.”
A member of the 2015-2016 Fine Woodworking Program class, Strom relished the opportunity to work with wood during the nine-month program that is based out of Nelson’s Silver King Campus.
“It took dedication to be successful in the program, school was always on my mind during the entire length of the program,” she says. “There was a lack of a creative element during those years of high school and university, having so much focus on Math and English and all the core subjects. I never had the chance to express myself in a creative way or make something that is mine.”
Bright Futures Ahead
The AFWS Fair happens every second year and becoming a finalist in the Fresh Wood Competition is a lofty achievement. According to their instructor, both Stevens and Strom have the talent it takes to be successful in the industry.
“Both of them have the technical skills to do anything and the know-how to figure it out,” says Ringheim, who also attended the Las Vegas show as a Selkirk College Fine Woodworking Program student in 2009 and like two of his latest star pupils came into the program after earning a degree in university.
After graduating from the program in 2016, Strom did on-site timber framing with a local company. This past spring, she was hired at Nelson’s Sprearhead Inc. and is now part of the team that manufactures high-end homes and buildings out of its shop on the North Shore of Kootenay Lake.
Stevens is carefully considering his next step. Though he would like to focus on the more artistic side of woodworking, creating one-off pieces of furniture is time consuming and requires a customer willing to pay top dollar. While he weighs his options, the talented woodworker is eyeing a future that brings both steady work and steady reward.
“I have this belief that society is trending more in the direction of valuing products that have been created through care and consideration,” he says. “It gives me hope that what we are doing will only grow in future years.”