Woodworking & Furniture Design graduate Sam Steele ’22

Sam Steele ’22 graduated from our BFA Woodworking & Furniture Design program last month. He was the inaugural recipient of the Anne Honeywell Orr Memorial Endowed Scholarship, benefitting outstanding students majoring in Woodworking & Furniture Design.

The following is an excerpt from our conversation with Sam, in which he shares his unique perspective on the value of an education from Maine College of Art & Design.

Sam Steele ’22, Owl Babies, Cherrywood, 105" x 44" x 75", 2022. | Photo: Annabelle Collette

How did you choose Woodworking & Furniture Design as a major? 
Choosing woodworking wasn’t an immediate decision for me. Growing up, I was always drawn to 3-D art, but I didn't have the chance to work with wood as a medium until coming to Maine College of Art & Design. I had originally thought architecture or sculpture would be my field of study but after trying both, neither felt like the correct fit. I decided on Woodworking & Furniture Design because it seemed like the perfect combination of architecture and sculpting.

What attracted you to Maine College of Art & Design, and what ultimately led to your decision to enroll?
I originally began my college career pursuing architecture at the New York Institute of Technology. In the architecture program at the NYIT, I found myself far more disconnected and losing the artistic, more tactile approach I loved in high school. I decided to transfer schools to Brooklyn College where I’d have more options in exploring different mediums in art. During my time there I enrolled myself in multiple courses in printmaking, sculpture, and drawing. I enjoyed the freedom of expression in the disciplines I explored at Brooklyn College, but I also missed working within the framework of functionality like I had done in architecture. I decided that Woodworking & Furniture Design would be the perfect outlet for me. The hands-on aspect of making furniture in combination with the process of design allowed me to apply everything I learned to one medium. Learning this new craft within the atmosphere of an art school was important to me. Maine College of Art & Design was one of the only art schools with a Woodworking & Furniture Design program of its kind. The shop seemed well-equipped and the work coming out of the program was impressive. The communal aspect of a smaller school and its beautiful location felt like the perfect environment for me.

What was the greatest challenge you faced and overcame during your studies? How did this prepare you for professional life?
I had difficulty broadening my inspirations and stylistic approaches. When I first began studying at Maine College of Art & Design, I was heavily influenced by modern architectural design, and attempted to incorporate those stylistic elements into my first few projects. I focused on functionality in relation to successful design, as well as the ability to reproduce the designs. I found myself struggling to move from these old approaches. As I began to think about my projects in a more conceptual manner without the thought of practicality and reproducibility, I was able to break free. I started to reflect on my life and my interests. I began to reference farm vernacular, mid-century modern furniture, renaissance era framework, and contemporary industrial design as a way of exploring themes of nostalgia, childhood, and familial relations. In doing so I’ve found myself far more passionate about the objects I’m making, and the end results are far more successful.

You are the inaugural recipient of the Anne Honeywell Orr Scholar; what did it mean to you to earn this distinction?
I was both surprised and very honored to be the first recipient of the Anne Honeywell Orr Scholarship. It prodded me to reflect on my work and think about how far I’ve come since arriving at Maine College of Art & Design. Receiving the scholarship encouraged me to push myself even harder in my thesis, and gave me the confidence I needed to take on such an ambitious project.

What’s next for you? What are you most excited to do after graduation?
I am excited to take everything I’ve learned at Maine College of Art & Design and apply it to my own practice. I can’t wait to continue experimenting with my work outside of the structure of school. I have a few commissions set up that I’m very excited about, and plan to take on more as time goes on. I just want to keep learning.

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