Inspired by Student Creativity

Carter Sio ’76 started his career over 35 years ago at George School with the challenge of filling the big shoes of his predecessor, Palmer Sharpless. “Palmer was extremely community-focused and was instrumental in developing the woodworking scene in Bucks County. As a new teacher, my objective was to stay above water and inject my style and design experience into the student projects. I’ll never forget the first student exhibit we launched when Marshall Center first opened. Charlie Hough ’44, the renowned architect, walked through the show and was very impressed with the student design. I am proud of that moment,” said Carter.

Sustainability is a central theme in the woodshop that Carter reflected upon. “My objective is to have as small of a carbon footprint as possible and we do that by milling our own wood. We only work with domestic hardwoods and are at a point where we only buy cherry and maple. Walnut, red oak, white oak, poplar, and ash all come from the campus. A portable sawmill is brought to campus and the students are involved in seeing where lumber comes from. A lot of us take for granted how easily it is to buy wood and haul it home to make something. Forest management, transportation, sawing, drying, and grading are all involved in making that stick of wood.” Carter has been able to take the non-physical aspect of the COVID-environment to engage students in expanding their thinking. “During the pivot to virtual woodworking this past spring, we talked about turning a fallen tree into usable material and focused on green woodworking techniques,” explained Carter. “We also discussed conceptual design projects such as creating public seating in the time of COVID.”

Student creativity is exciting because they approach projects with little or no design experience. “It is wonderful when no one knows the rules of woodworking because they design things that cannot be made the way they design them. They are thinking in ways that I don’t because I know the guidelines. This curtails my creativity sometimes because I can’t build something a certain way. Students will bring me projects they want to create, and I recommend modifications. Their unique designs make it extremely fun to build. That is the best part of working with novices—they don’t know the limitations and always go for home runs.”

One trend that Carter is seeing in student designs is making their pieces to allow them to ship them home to various places around the world. “Students are proud of their creations and want to enjoy them long after graduation,” reflected Carter. “I am amazed all the time. Our terms are roughly ten weeks long, and the kids come to class four times a week for about an hour. That comes out to forty hours of time in the shop spread out over ten weeks. None of the hours are tied together, so there is no continuity. They are losing half of that time to setup and cleanup, so they are really working for twenty minutes, four times a week. What they accomplish during that short period of disjointed time blows me away.” Carter loves seeing the work of his former students and can even remember specific students when he sees their pieces decades after they built them in his woodshop.

Much like the legendary Palmer Sharpless before him, Carter is the consummate teacher, craftsman, and mentor who continues to inspire his students.