Crafting a New Career: Airplane Mechanic to Furniture Designer

Crafting a new career: Airplane mechanic to furniture designer

Newsroom authorby Jon KuiperijMay 23, 2019
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Samson Wang always knew he wanted to work with his hands.

The son of a pilot, Wang initially followed his father’s footsteps into the aviation industry. After a year of studying avionics repair in his native China, he came to Canada in 2009 to complete a pair of aircraft repair and maintenance programs at Canadore College, then landed a job in Burlington fixing planes.

Samson working on the headrest for the chair

But after working for a couple of years, Wang didn’t quite feel fulfilled by his new career. He enjoyed technical aspects of it, like reading schematics and analyzing issues, but he also had natural artistic abilities and interests that weren’t being utilized.

That’s when a friend suggested that he book a tour of Sheridan to check out the school’s Honours Bachelor of Illustration program. During that tour, Wang stumbled onto something else that intrigued him.

“There were models in the display case in front of the (furniture) studio. I said, ‘What’s this program about?’” Wang recalls. “It was very attractive to me. I was very attracted to wood and art, and this was a combination of it all. It was right on my spot. It was very exciting when I found this out.”

“…at the heart of it, Samson’s a craftsperson who has the deep dialogue and respect for craft and tradition and material culture as a whole.”

– Alan Flint, media fundamentals program co-ordinator at Sheridan

Driven by passion

It wasn’t easy to suddenly change career paths. It meant four more years of school, investing all of his savings into education and earning some credits required for admission into Sheridan’s Honours Bachelor of Craft and Design (Furniture) degree. Wang worked for one more year, taking English and visual arts courses in the evenings, before beginning his new program in the fall of 2015.

“It was passion-driven,” Wang says of his decision to go back to school. “And my grandfather is a carpenter, so I was influenced into this culture. My family has been very supportive of me going in this path.”

Some pieces from Samson's portfolio of work

Fortunately, there were some skills Wang had developed as an airplane mechanic that made the transition easier. He already had years of experience working with sheet metal and composite, so working with wood came fairly naturally. He’d also developed time management and organizational skills during his previous job, where work often needed to be completed as quickly as possible.

“His skill sets were fairly adaptable,” says Sheridan media fundamentals program co-ordinator Alan Flint, formerly a fine arts professor at McMaster University and Vancouver’s Emily Carr University. “But at the heart of it, he’s a craftsperson who has the deep dialogue and respect for craft and tradition and material culture as a whole.”

Inspired by serenity

Creativity has been at the heart of every piece Wang has designed during his time at Sheridan. A wall-hung cabinet he built in second year was inspired by ocean waves, featuring curved overlapping doors and cherry wood that presented a ripple illusion. A dining chair he crafted in third year was built from pieces of bleached hard Maple cut in the shape of animal bones. His black side table was a nod to both China’s serene Jiangnan landscape and the ancient art of Chinese calligraphy, highlighted by a rippled table top that simultaneously represents a lily pad and an ink drop.

“I really enjoy the sense of serenity and a very quiet environment,” says Wang, who lists American woodworking legend George Nakashima as a source of inspiration. “If you think about woodworking, you’re in this rhythm of repetitive motion, but you’re also constantly thinking about the next step. That’s my design career goal, to be thinking while making, constantly developing your skill and your design. You’re also maybe coming up with a new form that you never expected or imagined.”

That was the argument in Wang’s fourth-year thesis project, a large and beautiful lounge chair that explored the physical and psychological correlations between traditional Chinese calligraphy and woodworking. Titled ‘Rhythmic Serenity’ and built out of ebonized white ash, the chair is framed by a nine-foot-long piece of wood Wang purchased from a farmer in Exeter, Ontario and then steam-bent into a horseshoe shape. Flattened spindles represent simple but elegant brush strokes while also suggesting movement and rhythm through negative spacing.

“If you think about woodworking, you’re in this rhythm of repetitive motion, but you’re also constantly thinking about the next step.”

– Samson Wang

Sheridan’s President sits in chair

To Wang, ‘Rhythmic Serenity’ symbolizes more than tranquility and calligraphy. It also represents how far he’s come in four years, from an unfulfilled airplane mechanic to a furniture designer showcasing his work at the prestigious WantedDesign exhibition in New York City. “It was fate,” Wang says of his journey. “It’s amazing.”

Janet Morrison and Samson Wang

When Wang’s thesis project was complete, he gathered all of his works together for a photo shoot, then invited Sheridan Gallery curator Jaime Owen and Flint to view them. As soon as Flint walked into the photo studio, he was struck by the sight of the chair contrasted against a white paper backdrop. And as soon as he sat in the chair, an idea came to him.

“It just felt sophisticated. I have no other word for it. It just seemed like a moment when you felt the quality of the crafts and designs and of Samson’s achievement,” says Flint. “I said, ‘It would be great to have (Sheridan President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Janet Morrison) see this chair.’”

Morrison responded to an email from Wang and agreed to sit in the chair, even posing for photographs with her assistant Tracy Smith, Wang and Sheridan Furniture Studio Head Peter Fleming.

“Peter’s worked really hard to get this program on the right path,” Wang says. “That’s why I invited Janet Morrison to sit in this chair. I hope to increase publicity for Sheridan as well as the Bachelor of Craft and Design furniture program, so more people know this program exists. It’s a fascinating program.”

Pictured at top of page: Samson Wang seated in the chair he designed titled Rhythmic Serenity. 

Written by: Jon Kuiperij, Marketing Copy and Content Writer at Sheridan.

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