By Nina Noah
As the new year approaches, so does Kevin’s 31st year as an instructor at the Apprenticeshop. Most of us on the Shop floor can’t even imagine a pre-Kevin Shop. For 30 years, he has been a steadfast presence, shepherding apprentices quietly, graciously, with that humorous sparkle in his eyes, through their two-year crash course in building boats.
One of the things I appreciate most about Kevin is his ability to stand back and allow his students to make mistakes. Making mistakes has always been hard for me. I can be a bit of a control freak, perfectionist, or whatever else you’d like to call it. But letting go and allowing myself to try something without fear of the end result has never been my forte. That has shifted after my now three and a half years at the Shop. And I owe much of that change to the experience of making and to Kevin’s approach to teaching.
Kevin had a knack for coming by to check on me just as I had committed some ungraceful error, like tearing out the grain after getting a little too chisel happy, or accidentally missing my marks with a handsaw. When he would inevitably catch my eye, I would sheepishly smile, half hidden in my corner behind the stern of the Mackinaw. He would come over, grinning, and jokingly ask “Ok, what did you do now?” This little poke at me had a way of immediately taking the tension out of my shoulders. It made my error seem trivial, something to laugh off, an easily navigated problem, rather than the cataclysm it had seemed to me five minutes before. Moments like these have allowed me to relax into a problem. They’ve given me the confidence to tackle mistakes knowing I’ll come out of the experience just fine. And for that, I am very grateful because this skill doesn’t just apply to boatbuilding. It has allowed me to navigate those moments of losing control in life with more ease, and I’d like to think, more grace.
So many apprentices hold Kevin in great esteem. Former apprentice Ellery Brown had this to say about Kevin:
“As a bright-eyed first year apprentice, I was absolutely in awe of Kevin's boatbuilding prowess from the moment I saw him work. From lofting, to cutting a rabbet, to fitting a dovetail joint, it all seemed effortless and lovely in his hands, like he was born with that folding ruler in one and a block plane in the other. Ten years out of the Apprenticeshop, I've encountered other "naturals" in the boatbuilding world. I've done my best to learn as much from all of them as I can. Along the way I've realized, that yes, Kevin's boatbuilding abilities are remarkable, but his true gift is teaching. I have never met anyone so capable of helping others be their best selves. Kevin has so quietly escorted so many of us to the profound sense of pride and accomplishment that comes in launching a boat of one's own making. I suspect and hope that he feels those same emotions in sending his apprentices into the world to pursue this craft, or more to the point, to pursue our best selves.”
At our recent holiday party, we had an opportunity to pay tribute to Kevin, and, even better, give him a thorough surprise. We secretly donned specially designed tee shirts in his honor.
While he was intently unwrapping his own shirt, which we had wrapped and placed under the tree with the rest of the secret Santa gifts, the whole crowd removed their top layer to reveal the custom Kevin Carney emblem on their tees. When he finally looked up to register the surrounding crowd, he nearly jumped out of his Carhartts. It was rare to see such a composed figure look so surprised!
Thank you Kevin for sharing your head, heart and hands with the Apprenticeshop community over the past 30 years.