An interview with Anselm Fraser, Chippendale School Founder
The Chippendale School was established in 1985. Taking us back in time before the woodworking school was born, can you tell us where your furniture making journey began?
AF: From a very young age, I was obsessed with working with my hands. I was not, and still am not, an academic person so school was not easy, particularly as I am heavily dyslexic. I recall many an afternoon hiding in the woodshop at school, whilst my classmates were on the sports fields.
As a young man, I was lucky enough to learn the craft of antique furniture restoration at a small school that is no longer running. Whilst on this course I decided that I would like to open a school of my own, so we moved to Scotland and the next year, the Anselm Fraser School of Antique Furniture Restoration was born, later to be renamed The Chippendale International School of Furniture.
What prompted you to set up the woodworking school some 35 years ago?
AF: I was always drawn to antiques and the make do and mend mentality. I love the idea of working with a piece of furniture that was made centuries ago, bringing it back to life and how sustainable that is as a model. The school has changed a lot over the years, now teaching design and making as well as restoration on its professional course.
Do you feel you achieved what you set out to do?
AF: I have far exceeded the expectations I had at the beginning. We started with one apprentice at the age of 15 and one student 35 years ago and now our workshop has about 50 people in it at any one time. It is now a centre of creative excellence that I am immensely proud of.
What have been your highs at the school? Any lows?
AF: Over the years there have been equal amounts of highs and lows, however, the highs outweigh the lows…an extremely memorable moment was receiving our Tier 4 status which allows us to bring in students from all over the world. A low was moving to new premises when we had to start from scratch again. It was difficult in those early years, but we use our experience as an example when preparing students for life after graduation – it is not always going to be easy, if it was, everyone would be doing it!
Did you imagine it would end up as it is now with your son Tom Fraser at the helm as principal?
AF: I made a conscious effort not to put any pressure on my children to take on the school after I retire and encouraged them to go find whatever it is that they are passionate about and then find a way to make money out of it. Coincidentally both sons have returned to the woodturning world, with my eldest Jamie, running his own woodturning business in London and my second son, Tom now taking the school to the next level of which I am very proud.
What are your hopes for the school now that it is in your son’s hands?
AF: To continue teaching the art of woodworking to an international audience and keep passing on traditional and contemporary techniques to keep our wonderful craft alive.
What would you say to anyone thinking about contemplating getting into woodworking and furniture making?
AF: The immense satisfaction that furniture making gives you is unparalleled. It’s good for the soul and mental wellbeing. The craft has more relevance now than it ever has before and with the world the way it is at the moment, I can only see it gaining more momentum.
If you would love to learn professional woodworking skills, check out the Chippendale School’s intensive 30-week Professional Course and don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any questions.