Students' design showcased at Botanical Gardens

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 11:30am

    A collaboration with Boothbay Region High School will find guests at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens resting easy --- in body and mind -- this summer. Thanks to a donation by Allagash Brewing Company (Portland), retired barrels are finding new life as chairs designed, built and delivered by local students.

    The project arose from the imminent need to replace the Gardens’ traditional, frequently used Adirondack chairs. Director of Horticulture, Sharmon Provan, wanted to collaborate with the local high school to design a new “classic” chair, one that was not quite a traditional Adirondack, “but unique to the Gardens.” The collaboration is “an opportunity to showcase young artists and craftspeople from our own community,” she continued.

    Boothbay Region High School furniture design teacher, Chip Schwehm, was enthusiastic about the project. He and art teacher, Manon Lewis, had students draw up designs based on a few basic parameters set by the Gardens and its needs. After a series of discussions, junior Sarah Gentry’s design was voted as best-suited to the demands of the project. Together, the students created and presented life-size models, tagging them with measurements and angles. The class, Schwehm, and Provan tried out all of the chairs and voted on the best features to incorporate into the final design.

    Those design parameters were then handed over to senior Sam Betts, who created plans using AutoCAD software and “a lot of math, science, and moving [digital] pieces around.”

    “The process of using the barrels was new to everyone, so they learned along the way, how to take the barrels apart and clean the staves, how best to fit them in the design, and how best to protect the finished chair,” says Provan.

    “The hardest part was cleaning the staves,” said junior Riley Johnson. Because these were charred oak barrels, “we had to scrub them with wire brushes until the original surface came through.” Before any chairs could be assembled from the cleaned and prepped staves, however, the students had to sort the pieces by width and degree of curvature, deciding which would fit each component of the chair best.

    The result is stunning and original. “I could not be more thrilled about working with Chip, Manon, and all of the students. They should be very proud of their work, and their ability to work together, to create a beautiful piece of functional art,” Provan stated.

    “A project like this one makes learning more powerful for a host of reasons,” Schwehm commented. “Because real people are going to use the product, the design has to be durable, comfortable, and attractive - this raises the bar for all of us. Good things take time and effort, and provide a lot of satisfaction.”

    Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is a nationally recognized public garden located in Boothbay, Maine. The mission of the Gardens is to inspire meaningful connections among people, plants and nature through horticulture, education and research. Its annual visitation includes guests from all fifty states and 65 foreign countries. For more information, call 207-633-8000, or visit