While woodworking may not be considered a fine art to some, a visit to Unitarian Universalist Church of the South Hills in Mt. Lebanon could change some minds.

Scott Smith and quilt

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Scott Smith with a “quilt” project

Through the end of April, the church is hosting an exhibit by students in member Scott Smith’s “Exploring Pattern Through Lamination” course in the Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture, where he has been instructing for 35 years.

“The idea of the course is to teach them about compositional pattern making and relate it to the correct processes of woodworking, particularly gluing,” he explained.

Lamination is a term for wood that’s bonded together. The assignments Smith gives his students inspire them to produce work that demonstrates a great deal of creativity, the professor said.

“They’re given particular steps that they have to do, but there is a lot of invention and interpretation on their own parts,” Smith said.

The exhibit features the results of four course assignments, with eight students, mostly in their third through fifth years in the architectural program, represented. Smith leads off each semester with a project he calls face-to-face lamination.

“I had them use broad markers and do a whole series of quick drawings, each consisting of five strokes. Then they picked the best one, and traced it” he said. “After they traced those gestures, they cut the pieces of wood out like a jigsaw puzzle and fit them together.”

The students’ second assignment was an exercise in generating parallel and perpendicular patterns.

“They made three columns from single pieces of solid wood. Then they cut a slot in it,” Smith said, “and stacked shorter pieces end to end into the grooves.”

Next was an angled-lamination project for which students followed a three-step process, starting with cutting wedges and gluing together three assemblages shaped like a fan or herringbone.

“Then they had to glue those three groupings together. The third phase was to take that glue-up and slice all the way through it to insert another piece of wood,” Smith said. “The product produced a final shape whose perimeter is totally random and hard to predict.”

The final assignment involved creating pieces that an arrangement of patterned squares which resemble quilts. The students made “what I call a square log,” he said, using wood cut to specified dimensions. From there, they cut eight or nine tiles perpendicular to the edge of the log and arranged them into patterns.

“They had the option of keeping the tile orientation consistent, or they could flip it them over,” to produce a book match, or mirror-image effect. “Often when you see wild-grained panels of wood in furniture, it is book matched, like a Rorschach test.”

His students generally work with domestic hardwoods such as cherry, walnut, maple and ash, with flourishes of exotic woods – for example, purpleheart, yellowheart and ebony – to add color.

The annual exhibit of the work from his course is usually are held in the Carnegie Mellon School of Architecture office, but ongoing renovations prompted him to go elsewhere this year.

“I also wanted to get the work out into the general community, and the church is a fine vehicle for that,” Smith said.

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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