Campus & Community

The Big Picture

2 min read

Laura Ruth Jarrett, woodworker

Laura Ruth
Laura Ruth Jarrett

Photo by Kris Snibbe

I’m a spiritual person, a Christian, but I’m not what you would call orthodox. I’m a preacher’s kid. My dad was the minister of a small, evangelical church on the south side of Atlanta. I learned how to pray as a kid, but I found that it didn’t work for me. What does work for me is using my hands, making things. For me, it’s a way of being in a meditative state, losing track of time, finding the groove. And when I’m making something for someone, it’s like saying a prayer for them.

I started woodworking seven or eight years ago when my partner bought me a used chisel and a hammer. I used to go down the basement and take out my frustrations on a piece of wood, just waling away at it. After a while the chisel bent and I took it to a tool store and said, “Look what happened to this junky chisel!” He looked at it and said, “What in the world have you been doing to this?”

That’s when I decided to take a woodworking course with Willie Hills at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. I had the desire to work with wood, but no skills, and in Willie’s class I started getting skills – basic joints, how to use power tools. After that, I served a three-month apprenticeship with Rebecca Petersen, a woodworker in Jamaica Plain. She taught me more about joints, about making cases, which tools to use, how to buy wood, how to run a business.

You know how when you build something bad and give it away to somebody, and then you build something a little better and give that away, and eventually word gets out? Well, after a while, Nancy Richardson, the associate dean at the Divinity School, where I work part time as a staff assistant, and Claudia Highbaugh, the associate director of ministerial studies, asked me if I’d build an altar for Andover Chapel. Since then, I’ve made a side altar for my own church, and I’m working on a votive candle stand for Hope Church in Roslindale.

I find that if I don’t do woodworking, I feel the loss of it. I always carry a piece of wood with me in my pocket. I love the feel of it. It makes me feel happy and calm.