It is an honour and a privilege for Crafted Vancouver to welcome our new Strategic Partner: Inside Passage School of Fine Cabinetmaking, located in Roberts Creek on the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia, Canada. We have previously collaborated with IPSFC alumni as exhibitors in our annual Crafted Interiors events.
In 1987 when Robert Van Norman came across a copy of ‘A Cabinetmakers Notebook’ by James Kernov he knew immediately that he wanted to dedicate his life to this craft. It was that book and the conversations that followed between Jim and Robert that lead to the opening of the Inside Passage School of Fine Cabinetmaking in 2005.
Robert is the founder, resident craftsman and teacher at the school, working alongside his wife Yvonne, admissions, registration and program teaching assistant and graduate of the Impractical Studies Program. When Robert and Yvonne were looking for a location for the school they wanted to be on the West Coast, close to a large centre but remote enough that students would feel they were being sequestered, enabling them to focus on the craft without distraction.
Robert explained that the environment has a lot to do with how one feels at work, which in turn contributes a great deal to the craftsmanship and the finished piece. Like many craftsmen, Robert says he finds inspiration in nature, such as the gentle line or curve of a cedar bough but it has always been about the wood and this continues to be the foundation for the inspiration in all his work. All varieties of wood have unique characteristics, colour, pattern, texture, fragrance. Finding a wood that best conveys one’s intention continues to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of the creative process for Robert. ‘We have an intimate relationship with our material’, he says, ‘and whatever wood I am working with at the time becomes my favourite’.
Currently, he is making a cabinet in English brown oak which has always been one of his favourites. Peder Moos and John Brown are two influential craftsmen that have guided Robert’s approach to life as much as the craft itself. When asked how his craft impacts on the quality of his life, Robert shared a quote from John Brown that ‘says it all’. “I live in a beautiful place, I work at something I love, I make enough money to live and my demands in the world’s resources are very meagre; what is so unusual about this idyllic circumstance is that there is plenty of room for more to join.” – John Brown.
To date, Robert and Yvonne have had the privilege of working with hundreds of people from 41 countries from as far off as Japan maintaining contact with many of them over fifteen years. During their ten year anniversary celebration, with more than a hundred alumni, two of Robert’s students suggested that the above John Brown quote described the life they were living. Robert said this was the greatest gift a teacher could ever receive. Robert informed me that each year he and his wife travel to Israel to teach at one of their alumni’s school. This year their plan was to walk the Camino Trail immediately following the class there but due to the international travel restrictions were unable to do so. “The long walk will have to wait yet another year,” he said.
Covid is a challenging time for many people who have had to reinvent themselves in how they live and work and Robert is no different, he says. IPSFC school has always maintained there is no substitute for hands-on learning, but their aim is to prove themselves wrong as they transition to distance learning.
Due to Covid restrictions and travel limitations, we conducted this interview through email. We are grateful for Robert’s frankness, his time, and the responses he shared, and look forward to Crafted Vancouver 2021, when we can meet in person and showcase his student’s fine craftsmanship with a growing audience in and around Metro Vancouver. For more information about Inside Passage School of Fine Cabinetmaking please contact Robert or Yvonne toll free on 1.877.943.9663