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Tech Expo Has a Low-Tech Edge

Date: May 25, 2001
Story by: Mary Bridget Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos by: Lisa Ventre
Archive: General News

As its name implies, Tech Expo projects often focus on what College of Applied Science students can create using modern technology.

But that's not the whole story. Among the Expo's high-tech offerings, you'll find decidedly low-tech ones as well: carefully crafted hand-made furniture by students in the college's wood technology certificate program.

chair by Helmsworth

Two such projects displayed at Tech Expo - a Mission-style table and a Windsor chair - are by a UC faculty member and an emeritus who have switched their traditional roles. Instead of serving in their accustomed roles as teachers, they are now students, enrolled in CAS woodworking courses that comprise the only complete woodworking certificate program in the region.

Michael Romanos, DAAP professor of planning, and Dr. James Helmsworth, M.D., College of Medicine professor emeritus of surgery, are showing off their handiwork along with the rest of the CAS student body during Tech Expo.

Romanos began taking CAS woodworking courses about two years ago and has since made tables and display cases for prehistoric pottery he has collected while working and teaching in Indonesia. Trained as an architect, he began the hands-on woodworking because of his personal and professional interest in design, style and form. "As an architect, I always depended on others to execute my designs, or I had to follow the design wishes of the client. Now, I'm creating what I want myself. I'm designing it and building it. I'm learning about the strength of materials and their weaknesses first hand. I'm learning the incredible precision of building. You measure, and you measure...and, then, you measure again," he explained.

Romanos at work

Romanos' current project, displayed at Tech Expo, is a Mission-style table, so called because Spanish missionaries first brought this style to the New World. It's a style in which the functional elements of a piece -- the pegs and support cross pieces -- are exposed. The piece, Romanos points out with pride, is made of recycled wood.

For Romanos, who is currently enrolled in two sections of "Furniture Construction II" and a "Wood Technology: Finishing" course and who is earning a certificate from the program, the best part of displaying his work is the same as for any of his own planning students. "This [table] would not exist without me," he said, adding, "It's creating harmony and balance. It's great to hear your instructor say, 'This is a really nice piece.'"

Helmsworth at work

Dr. Helmsworth, 86, takes similar pride in his work even though he's been enrolled in CAS woodworking courses for 18 years, starting the classes about 2 years before his retirement from the College of Medicine where he taught from 1949-1984. He says that most of the many chairs, beds, tables and cupboards he has made are used by his children. His current project, a Windsor chair, will likely go to one of his children after it is exhibited at Tech Expo. However, he's thinking of keeping his next project for his own use: a fireside chair based on antique Welsh and Irish chairs.

Dr. Helmsworth first worked with building ship models before he turned to furniture making. He quipped, "Ship models soon filled up the house. Furniture is a lot more functional."

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