SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Wofford’s arts curriculum expanded to include the conceptualization, design and build of furniture during Interim.

Michael Webster, assistant professor of art and art history, is teaching the Furniture-Design Build Interim. On the way to building a custom piece of furniture, 15 students are learning a new appreciation for the ways in which the abstract and the practical merge.

“I see this as an extension of the arts curriculum in a way,” Webster  says. “I hope it’s something really different, even from the other art classes. And it’s about having fun doing something you’ve never done before.”

The students are building cabinets and coffee tables, literally from the ground up. After eight days of instruction in how to use the saws and other power tools necessary for furniture construction, they went through an extensive process of designing their pieces on paper.

They also constructed the workbenches upon which their creations are being built.

Webster said most of his students have had little or no experience working with power tools.

“We spent a significant amount of time on learning all the different saws and techniques,” he says. “We had a week and a half of three-hour classes just covering the saws and safety. Most of them probably had never used these kinds of tools, but it’s gone well.”

Next came the sketches. Although not as detailed as most mechanical drawings, each student’s design reached its final form only after dozens of attempts to work out the right lengths, widths and unique design touches. It was an academic approach to creating a design for a real-world build.

“They had to do over 30 sketches of various ideas,” Webster says. “We had examples online and in videos, and they had to think about how to use all the components in their own way. Their sketches produced their strongest idea, and they made full-scale drawings from that.”

Senior Caroline Traini, a math major from Frederick, Md., is building a cherry coffee table, a project she said is certain to please her father.

“My dad is a big do-it-yourself guy,” she says. “I’ve done a lot of home projects with him. He’s always been good at getting me and my sisters in the garage and working with tools.”

Those experiences made her comfortable wielding tools, she says, but the Interim class took things to another level.

“I really appreciate the design process now,” she says. “I ended up with something that I’m confident I’ll enjoy for a long time.”

Webster, who has taught furniture design for seven years, said he hopes the students take home new ideas about the creative process.

“I think there are some bigger goals in thinking about how the creative process works, how to work through finding various inspirational ideas, how to sketch and refine ideas. It’s a process that I hope they learn from,” he says.

Interim frees students and faculty to spend the month of January focused on a single topic designed to expand the walls of the traditional classroom, explore new and untried topics, take academic risks, observe issues in action, develop capabilities for independent learning and consider different peoples, places and professional options.