Meet Instructor Mark Johnston

Mark Johnston will be teaching our upcoming class on Beginning Woodworking: Learn to Make a Traditional Hay Rake on May 18-19. An architectural historian by day, Mark gets involved in a wide variety of activities, such as investigating possible candidates for the National Historical Register, and cultural resource management projects. He is passionate about connecting people to woodworking skills developed prior to industrialization.

Why an architectural historian? It was certainly a convoluted path! My dad and grandfather were interested in old farm buildings and railroads, so as a child in Iowa I absorbed their conversations about subjects such as how a depot was built prior to mechanization. Understanding architecture and researching the techniques used in the past informs our overall understanding of how we got to where we are today. And helping someone understand the skill and thought that went into a building may help an owner decide to honor those past builders, though preservation. I often say I’m part of “Old House CSI”.

What about “out with the old, in with the new?” I think there is a place for new and old. We’re not trying to stop change, but often making historic structures relevant through thoughtful and researched renovation increases the value of not only the building, but the neighborhood. I think folk schools use that framework, giving students, no matter what their age, the opportunity to learn and honor traditional skills and the artists who used developed and applied those skills. I believe students who learn traditional skills find their lives are enriched.

What do you hope students take away from your class? I think everyone loves stories, and learning woodworking skills connects people to the stories of those who built things by hand, long ago. Looking at hand-made furniture, you see the tool marks of the person who made that chair, it’s amazing to realize that may be the last physical remnants of someone who lived 100 or more years ago. In addition to honoring craftspeople and past techniques, I hope people will also take away that great feeling of wow, I did that, I built that by hand!

Photo Credit: Dominik Scythe on Upsplash

You’ve got cats in your household. True confession time: do you watch cat videos? I am a sucker for furry critters, and yes, I do waste too much time watching cat videos. But they’re so fun….

Photo Credit: Jae Pak on Upsplash
What is your irrational fear? Believe it or not, insects, which is kind of a problem for a person who crawls around in the basements of old structures. I make a lot of noise and move slowly! 

What’s your favorite breakfast? Nothing beats a good waffle. 

Any good sources for information about woodworking or architectural heritage? I always try to give a nod to Roy Underhill, his show ‘The Woodwright’s Shop’ has been on PBS since the late 1970’s. I also have been able to find woodworking texts scanned throughGooglebooks, it’s helpful to see primary sources. Finally, a good podcast for historic preservation is Preservation Nation, available wherever someone gets their podcasts.