One of the standard images in introductory art history classes is Rembrandt’s Syndics of the Cloth Guild, a 17th century portrait of six distinguished gentlemen who shared a common vocation and were proud members of the local guild. In existence since the early days of the Roman Empire, guilds had become the professional refuge of artisans of like mind and interest. Traditionally independent in business, they were bound in interest and skill.
Flash forward to the 21st century, and the concept of a guild lives on, embodied in the Berkshire Woodworkers Guild. Over 60 members of this unique group were initially informally convened to support a fellow woodworker who had experienced personal and professional tragedy and, when their philanthropic efforts were completed, decided to stay together as a mutually supportive, educational and nurturing organization.
Membership in the Berkshire Woodworkers Guild is refreshingly diverse. Cabinet makers and house builders are side-by-side with furniture makers, boat builders, sculptors and makers of musical instruments. The Guild website aggregates the incredible work of every member, offering a showcase to individual practitioners who may not have showrooms, but share a common effort to reach out to existing and new customers with images of their fine work.
Professionals, amateurs, friends
Jim Law, president of the Berkshire Woodworkers Guild, views the monthly gathering of fellow woodworking aficionados as a chance to both learn and share. “Under normal circumstances, we’d meet in one of our members’ studios for a presentation on a new tool, a new technique, or a discovery that could be shared, then a wide-ranging and engaging discussion would result.” From staining techniques to the latest jig application are appropriate discussions and learning is based on sharing.
“We’re primarily professionals, but we have some incredible hobbyists who join us, as well. It’s really interesting. When somebody ‘green’ decides to join, they find all of the other guild members eager to help and encourage. We’ve all become good friends.”
The new world order
That was then … this is now.
With the national impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the idea of monthly guild meetings has had to be supplanted with furtive efforts at Zoom gatherings that encourage members to stay in touch and stay informed. The impact on the guild’s annual fundraising effort is also quite profound.
Guild event organizer and media contact Kristen Kanter has been in charge of coordinating and promoting the Berkshire Woodworkers Guild Fine Woodwork Annual Show and silent auction that feeds all of its proceeds into a scholarship fund supporting emerging woodworkers. Normally, the weekend event is hosted at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in West Stockbridge, MA. “A highlight of the show is a silent auction,” recalls Kanter. “Each member of the Guild contributes a piece to the auction with a value greater that $50.”
Last year’s event presented a wide range of work by 20 exhibitors and attracted a weekend crowd of over 1,000 attendees.
The result of the auction in 2019 was $11,000 in scholarship funds used for aspiring professional woodworkers to pursue their skills training at such notable institutions as North Bennett Street School in Boston, Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, ME, and The Krenov School in Fort Bragg, CA.
Since the silent auction is a critical part of the Guild’s outreach each year, efforts to coordinate, populate, and market the auction for 2020 are well underway. The once arcane worlds of online conferences and fundraising efforts have become more common on a daily basis. What has been a gathering of friends and a social outing in celebration of immense talent and skill will become a function of “mouse” clicks and credit cards filed on secure sites.
The Guild auction will go on, however, and four worthy, aspiring woodworkers will benefit from the generosity and support of an online audience. The interested, the curious, and the devoted are encouraged to log onto the website at berkshirewoodworkers.org anytime, but more specifically starting on July 1 to savor the artistry, envision how the work of these talented people might brighten their own lives and to bid on fine samples of the woodworkers’ art. •