“Each plank…can have only one ideal use. The woodworker must find this ideal use and create an object of utility to man, and if nature smiles, an object of lasting beauty.” George Nakashima (1905-1990), woodworker, author of “The Soul of a Tree”
The Academic Entrepreneur first learned of Anslem Fraser and the Chippendale School of Furniture about 8 years ago from a raving parent from California. His daughter was graduating from the school at the time, an he was thrilled at her progress and experience. He somehow found me and went out of his way to let me know how great the school was, and how much it meant to his daughter’s life, and how he was so proud of her for producing a design she was moving on to start a business with. I started researching Chippendale shortly thereafter and talked to Anslem on a few occasions. Years later the I was fortunate enough to tour the school and to meet its dynamic founder.
A year or so later Anslem led a seminar at our Accel Stanford Roundtable on Entrepreneurship Education (REE) Europe 2010 held in Edinburgh which I themed “Design and Entrepreneurship”. This picture was taken at the dinner event at which Alan Murray, Head of the School of Design at the Edinburgh College of Art delivered a keynote speech on instructional behaviors from his research on designing behavior in the Old Surgeon’s Hall.
While this is a great shot of Anslem, my favorite is the one on the right below (as found on the Chippendale website):
The story of Chippendale, founded in 1985, occurs over the last 30 years. Its an entrepreneurial tale of turnaround, innovation, differentiation, customer service and satisfaction. I’ve wanted to christen Anslem with the “Academic Entrepreneur of the Year Award” for some time now, and finally got the inspiration to write up the story and make the award. What sealed the decision was the new Chippendale Incubator Workshop that helps students start their own businesses by providing “bench space”, services and mentorship right after graduating. In addition, the new Artist in Residence programme was distinctive as well.
Alice Maclean, AIR, Chippendale International School of Furniture
I suppose it fits under the categories of entrepreneurship pedagogy and innovation in Scotland. In a sense, the School of Furniture is a makerspace, and has elements of an incubator as well as students have commercialized their designs right out of the program.
While usually we think of academic entrepreneurs as coming from a base of science knowledge, Anslem is unique as he has taken old knowledge and made it new. Beauty in art. He has not only accomplished that, but he has innovated on the education model itself, transformed a property and a town along with it. His students learn real, differentiated skills that they can take to the market and build careers around after an intense, year-long educational experience. Anslem is a caring yet stern teacher himself who is passionate about his work, and focused on making the lives of his students better by conveying tacit knowledge that is not only useful, but artistic as well.
You can learn more about this academic entrepreneur here on the school’s website: Furniture School Founder. A few bits are highlighted below:
*Anslem was formally trained in furniture design himself. He worked with Michael Hay-Will and learned under him.
*Anslem draws his teaching philosophy and his inspiration from Thomas Chippendale, for whom the school was named after. This thought leader, talented designer, skilled craftsman and keen businessman lived a long time ago — in the 1771-1779 ear. Anslem has revived his spirit, and retrieved his old knowledge, making it new again through the reincarnation of Chippendale in this educational institution. Thomas was a famous and talented cabinet maker who shared his knowledge and taught others. This was controversial at the time. Chippendale was quite the designer-entrepreneur himself. Wikipedia coverage is here. It was his contrarian approach of sharing knowledge and letting people in on his secrets that led to his reputation and, as we would put it today, his brand equity. For more on Thomas Chippendale, research him or buy the book “Life and Works of Thomas Chippendale” (1979) by Thomas Gilbert.
See Anslem singing “Happy Birthday” to Thomas Chippendale at his 295th
*Anslem believes in experiential learning. Only through working in and with wood actively and over a period of time can students truly learn and become craftsmen and women. Students work on projects and make real pieces from wood. The learning is “project based”.
*Anslem continues to work himself in addition to teaching. He runs his own business and designs his own signature furniture as well.
*Anslem and his wife purchased a “crumbling farm” an turned it around. With their hands and sweat they built the school and the business. Starting with 3 or 4 students a year the school now serves an average of 22.
*The school has its own incubator: The Chippendale Incubator Workshops for students that want to start their own businesses right there at the school.
*Most of the students take the entrepreneurial route themselves, starting their own businesses after they graduate.
*Under Anslem’s direction the school is pursuing new markets including the members of the Armed Forces (which are chipping in for fees), retirees, school leavers and post-graduates. There is a new course on furniture restoration as well.
*Anslem and his school take old knowledge and translate it into new things. For example, the 4,500 year old Egyptian art of gilding is being taught at the school. Anslem’s institution has not only a teaching component, but also a research and knowledge translation function that works as well.
Some recent graduates from the programme are here. What a fascinating bunch. Many have set up their own studios, some in Edinburgh, some quite a distance from the Capital City. The Chippendale website is most impressive and kept up-to-date, including its blog “Woodwords”. Core skills taught include a fair amount of hand tools. The Furniture School also offers field trips to students as a part of the curriculum. However, it seems the central focus is on the student project component. A typical day in the school begins at 8am and ends at 8pm. The program is intense and approximately a year long, running a total of 30 weeks between October and June. Its priced reasonably at GBP 17,700 which is about USD 25,000. A list of FAQs can be found here.
Anslem Fraser is a fine academic entrepreneur and his Chippendale International School of Furniture is a shining example of innovation in education. There is great value in teaching people how to build things. The experience, new knowledge and skills can change a student’s life and that of their parents as well for the better. The translation of old knowledge into learning for new people and then into new things makes all of our lives richer and increases our life experiences.
Of course, entrepreneurs don’t operate and a vacuum and thrive only with the help and hard work of others on their team. Anslem’s teaching and adminstrative staff includes Alan McGovern, Graham Davies, Clare Charleston, Sandy Burns and Isobel Edgar. I’m sure he would like to thank them as well as his wife for their support on the accomplishment of the Chippendale International School of Furniture Design.