Synopsis: Woodworking misplaced one in all its giants in January 2021 with the passing of Philip C. Lowe, instructor and grasp of interval furnishings making, founding father of the Furniture Institute of Massachusetts, sailor, scholar, author, and buddy. Here the woodworking neighborhood remembers one in all our personal.

Woodworkers like Philip C. Lowe don’t come alongside usually. In reality, people like him are a uncommon commodity, combining extraordinary expertise with greater than common ranges of kindness and generosity, and on high of that the fervour and temperament to show for many years. While he can’t be summed up with a couple of titles, Phil was a father, husband, tradesman, sailor, instructor, scholar, author, mentor, and, above all, a buddy. His life was full. His loss is profound.

A teenager units out on a path

Philip C. Lowe
Philip C. Lowe, 1948–2021

In 1967, Phil gained entrance into North Bennet Street School’s Cabinet and Furniture Making program. He was simply 17— below the permissible beginning age—and was admitted solely on the sturdy suggestion of his highschool store instructor. Phil left NBSS after one 12 months to hitch the Navy, the place he labored on a ship doing steel and wooden repairs and fabrication for 4 years. He stated his time within the Navy taught him the worth of being environment friendly and productive.

He returned to NBSS in 1972 to finish his second 12 months. As a scholar there, Phil realized furnishings making from George Fullerton, who had apprenticed within the Massachusetts store Mellish and Byfield (which had been in enterprise since 1815) and loved an extended woodworking profession earlier than retiring in 1951 and beginning the furnishings making program at NBSS. Phil realized the abilities of the commerce, and realized them nicely. He was remarkably productive.

He started instructing at NBSS in 1975, as Mr. Fullerton’s first assistant, then as the pinnacle of the division. This continuity {of professional} coaching proved an amazing asset for the scholars. Phil’s immense data, innate expertise, persistence, sensible strategy, and humor turned out to be the right components for instructing. Under his management this system thrived.

Phil Lowe while a student at NBSS
The scholar turns into a instructor. Phil Lowe in two phases of his life at NBSS: as a scholar (above) and as an teacher with George Fullerton within the late 1970s (beneath, proper).

In 1985, after greater than a decade instructing, Phil stepped down and began a fulltime enterprise in his residence city of Beverly, Mass. His work included conservation, customized furnishings, turning, and carving. Throughout his profession, he maintained a gentle stream of furnishings commissions and furnishings conservation jobs, however he spent the following 14 years steeped in that work.

The fruits of a life’s work

The Furniture Institute of Massachusetts, the college Phil began in 1999, was his ardour—the manifestation of his life’s endeavors as a woodworker and instructor. He ran the college for greater than 20 years, closing the doorways in early 2020 to concentrate on his well being and his household.

For lots of his college students, Phil represented a hyperlink to the lengthy historical past of woodworking. The faculty started with Phil instructing a two-year class, in addition to shorter lessons for severe hobbyists. He additionally shared his broad data of furnishings making at guilds throughout the nation, and by writing articles and making movies for Fine Woodworking for greater than 30 years. Phil was no stranger to accolades from his friends. In 2005 he obtained the celebrated Cartouche Award, given by the Society of American Period Furniture Makers in recognition of his ability and his profession as a instructor. He additionally obtained the 2010 Artisanship Award from the Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America.

As an teacher on the North Bennet Street School and then in his personal faculty, Phil was one of many final genuine connections to the wealthy woodworking custom discovered within the outlets that started to vanish within the 20th century. It was in these outlets that George Fullerton acquired the abilities and data that he shared with Phil, first as Phil’s instructor, then as his mentor when Phil started to show. Phil’s legacy is discovered not solely within the college students who went on to work as furnishings makers, but in addition in those that turned lecturers themselves, making an attempt to go on what they gained from him.

The pragmatist contained in the instructor

phil lowe woodworking

While Phil’s expertly crafted, traditionally correct items may need appeared the epitome of romance, he refused to romanticize the commerce. He repeatedly impressed upon college students that they have been making a “product.” This didn’t imply he didn’t recognize the rewards and satisfactions that come from doing good work and having it acknowledged by others. But he knew that going into the store Monday morning meant there was work to do, whether or not you felt impressed by it or not. He was reasonable and pragmatic with out dropping the power to understand his accomplishments.

He all the time remembered to emphasise that woodworking is a commerce, that the choices and judgments made when designing and making work for shoppers ought to be based mostly not solely on the standard of the craftsmanship but in addition on the sensible and prudent use of your time. So he anticipated his college students, like himself, to see each proficiency and effectivity as important. The purpose of any fee was to determine finest produce work that met the shopper’s expectations and wants with high quality workmanship and skilled effectivity. He didn’t really feel the necessity to overbuild for the sake of proving his talents.

Phil additionally knew you didn’t must personal sure benches, fixtures, or instruments to be a profitable woodworker. He produced high quality work on a easy bench with a primary facet vise. He exemplified a North Bennet Street catch-phrase that embraced “using hand tools in concert with machinery.” He did what made sense on the time given the duty.

Phil discovered enjoyment within the technique of constructing items that he knew others would dwell with and take pleasure in. This was additionally true with the instructing he did and the happiness that he noticed in his scholar’s efforts and successes.

Will Neptune graduated from NBSS in 1981 and taught there from 1985 to 2000. His work consists of commissioned furnishings and carving. Like Lowe, he’s a Cartouche award recipient. Steve Brown graduated from NBSS in 1990. Brown then labored for Phil till returning to NBSS as an teacher in 1999.


Phil Lowe: A craftsman and gentleman spread

From Fine Woodworking #288

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