Related topics

Trade School: Offering Adults Second Chance to Find First Love

December 31, 1989

BOSTON (AP) _ Professionals tired of the view from behind a desk can get a new outlook at the North Bennett Street School, where adults learn the delights of chiseling a violin to smooth perfection or piecing together a lock.

Nestled in the crooked streets of Boston’s North End, the school has grown from a turn-of-the-century vocational school for all ages into a second-chance center for adults pursuing new careers.

Howard Bouve, of Freedom, N.H., once oversaw 400 people as director of security for the Bank of Boston. Now he spends his days on a tall stool, peering over a tray of pins, trying to create the combination that makes up a lock’s inner workings.

At 59, Bouve is studying to be a locksmith, and a gouge running down the middle of his thumb is testimony to his hands-on occupation. At the bank, he was getting stale, Bouve said, and he jumped at the chance to leave.

″When you retire, you have to have a plan,″ Bouve said recently. ″You can’t just hit the floor at 6 every morning for 35 years and stop.″

Bouve said he liked the idea of locksmithing because it’s a job he can take anywhere. He and his wife plan to move to a warmer climate, he said. Tapping at his thumb wound, he mused that there may be no turning back.

″I’m glad I don’t wear a shirt and tie anymore,″ he said.

Founded in 1885, the school now offers courses in jewelry making, furniture, locks, violins, carpentry, bookbinding and piano technology.

Students must have a high school diploma. The average age is 30, said Walter McDonald, associate director.

Courses, which are given during daily sessions of about seven hours, last one to three years, with tuition ranging from $6,650 to $21,950.

Molly Carlisle, 40, had worked as a teacher, musician, flower seller and baker by the time she came from Ohio to take up bookbinding. ″It combines the beautiful and the practical in a way I really like,″ she said last month.

Carlisle said she appreciated the quiet, personal aspects of the work and the care and patience required to paint and paste backing, sew pages together and gently hammer delicate gold leaf into gilded titles.

″If I could bind books on a mountain, I’d be really happy,″ she said.

Upstairs in the violin-making rooms, where musical instruments hang from hooks around the room, Barbara Theobald, a former research scientist at Polaroid Corp., leaned into the small lamp casting a yellow glow over her work, chiseling the wood from the inner wall of a violin piece with a sharp edge the size of her fingernail.

Holding her work near her ear and tapping, she said, ″I hope it sounds good because I have to play it in my recital,″ she said. Recitals are required for students to graduate from the three-year course.

Theobald, who is in her 50s, made her mid-career move after 21 years in the lab.

″It was just an idea that came about,″ she said.

Not all students at the North Bennett Street School are late converts to the idea of working with their hands.

Larry Parham, 35, made furniture in Alabama until he decided he wanted formal training. The North Bennett Street School didn’t make students take Shakespeare with their furniture-making, Parham said.

In addition to new styles and techniques, the school taught Parham to be more exact, he said, as he traced the inlay of holly wood he had measured and fit into a mahogany card table.

″I came up for the challenge,″ he said. ″It’s been a good two years. It’s been a real rich experience for me.″

For David, a former optometrist studying furniture-making, the school is a second chance to craft a happier life.

″This is something I wanted to do, and now’s better than later,″ said the 31-year-old, who declined to give his last name. ″Some people go into a practice for 30 years, and never get around to what they really want to do.″

Update hourly