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Artist-in-residence shares passion for woodworking with Merrimack High School

Union Leader Correspondent

April 27. 2014 7:28PM
From left, Bryan D'Orval, Jonathan Narducci and Tyler Rohr, all freshman at Merrimack High School, participate in a unique woodworking experiment with simple boxes. (Kimberly Houghton Photo)

MERRIMACK — A Boston artist who is fearful that the art of woodworking might eventually vanish, is encouraging local students to think outside the box.

As an artist-in-residence at Merrimack High School, Beth Ireland is introducing the basics of woodworking while also motivating teens to think beyond their creations by empowering their creative edge.

"My goal is to travel around and teach as many people as possible the craft of woodworking so that it does not disappear," said Ireland, who previously traveled around the nation with her mini-woodworking shop van to help individuals create thousands of simple woodworking pieces.

Her most recent initiative has been at the local high school where she has spent three weeks teaching students how to construct small, personal boxes. Although the wooden boxes are relatively simple, they have a profound meaning for younger people trying to find themselves in a busy, hectic world, according to Ireland.

The box really represents a canvas that can include personal messages and symbols that help identify each student's uniqueness, said Phil Carle, who teaches the elective woodshop classes at Merrimack High School.

For example, one student created a box that portrays a Harry Potter book, while another encased a shell from his grandfather's service in World War II within the exterior of the box. Others focused on simpler concepts with just as much personal meaning to them, including sports, family and talents.

"We have been trying to inspire the kids to really think outside of the box," said Carle.

For Amber Smith, 15, that meant expressing her passion and love of traveling.

"When I graduate and go to college, I hope to leave Merrimack behind," said Smith, whose personal box has a drawing of a passport and roadway with the word 'welcome' in several different languages.

Ashley Partin, a freshman, said her favorite part of the project is viewing other students' boxes and their different perspectives on their own lives and how they chose to portray it.

Partin, who has a great love for the outdoors, has an elaborate plan for her wooden box that includes a fish, fishing pole and fishing hook.

"Everyone is very proud of their box," said Ireland.

Carle described the box project as a way to personally drive students to self discovery. Students have also been working on building canjos, or essentially banjos made out of recycled materials.

Ireland's next stop is a visit to Indiana University where she plans to teach for a semester.

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