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The art of the windmill


At the University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) woodshop in the Service Building on College Road, professor Kathleen Studebaker, an adjunct professor teaching ARTS 525: Introduction to Woodworking, could be seen working on one of several projects that covered one of the room’s many service tables. On the same table, unfinished windmill blades represented prototypes of finished student windmills currently on display at the Paul Creative Arts Center (PCAC). 

Studebaker, who originally graduated from Southern Illinois University with a master’s degree in sculpture, has been practicing woodworking for nearly 13 years, and despite having been teaching at UNH for the last four years, this is the first year she has taught the course as the “instructor of record” due to the absence of her co-professor Leah Woods. While the class focuses on both the functional and artistic aspects of woodworking, Studebaker said that the class, regardless of who teaches it, always features an artistic aspect to its assignments. 

This being the first time she had taught the class by herself, and given that she now had the opportunity to create the syllabus her way, Studebaker sought to create a simple yet wide-reaching project early on, like a windmill, that would provide students with some of the insight, skills and ideas that she had acquired over her years perfecting her craft. 

“So one thing I always wanted to do was come up with an object that we could have the students make really quickly at the beginning of the semester that would only take a couple weeks but that would introduce them to essentially all the basic equipment in a really short period of time, while simultaneously allowing them to end up with an object that they actually enjoyed having, and that was fun to make,” she said.

Diving deep into the construction of a typical student windmill, Studebaker explained that students used a variety of tools – including bandsaws, handsaws, sanders, drill presses, hand drills, dye grinders, countersinks and glue – to construct each part of the device. The professor also granted The New Hampshire a peek into the woodshop’s basement area, where her own windmill and a handful of other student windmills were featured on one of the service tables.  

Once finished, Studebaker encouraged her students to place them outside the side of the PCAC facing Parsons Hall as a means to showcase their work to the rest of the UNH community. The woodshop’s Instagram videos feature the windmills spinning rapidly in the wind on a sunny day as students observe the rainbow of wood on their way to class facing Parsons and Kingsbury Halls on Academic Way. 

“We just wanted to put them up to showcase them and as a fun… way of transforming that environment for a little while and getting people to just look and notice,” Studebaker said. “It’s really easy to walk around campus and… you get so used to everything that you see you kind of stop looking at things. So, as artists, a lot of times we like to introduce a new object into an environment just to see how it changes that environment and how it affects people, so we put some bright colorful moving object in someone’s way, you know they’re going to look at it.”

Although they were up for a good part of the semester during good weather, Studebaker said that they were recently taken indoors due to concerns of vandalism, as the students who made the windmills will be given the option to take their windmill home at the end of the year.  

Studebaker said that overall reaction to the windmills has been positive from both those making them in ARTS 525 and others in the UNH community, including two or three students who have reportedly expressed interest in taking the course in the future. 

“I’ve gotten tons of comments on how fun they are and how interesting people think it is from students and other professors and staff people, all kinds of different people,” she said. “I’ve gotten emails and even offers to buy some of them, so I’ve gotten a lot of really, really good feedback.” 

Despite Studebaker’s plans to leave UNH at the end of the year and move to Philadelphia to pursue her teaching career further, she hopes that the windmills and similar projects in the future help with spreading awareness toward UNH’s woodshop, explaining that some in the community were unaware that the university even had a woodshop until discovering the windmills. 

“… (The project) is relatable and fun and it provides sort of an inlet into woodworking that is just easy to enjoy… it also looks more intimidating probably than it actually is to make them,” Studebaker said. “This is the intro class, (the students) have never done any woodworking before, so… they all just came in and made these really nice windmills. 

“I think that kind of thing makes a person feel good about the subject that they’re working in.”  

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