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Saint Maud’s aims to grow community and teach life skills through woodworking

Katie Thoresen

Soft sunlight filters through the stained-glass windows of the former church that is now home to Saint Maud’s.

The space has been converted into a woodworking shop.

At the workbenches, each of the Pietrocatelli children are working on their own projects.

Brooke, 11, and Griffin, 8, are building shelves.

Harper, 10, is drawing sketches of the pencil sharper and ruler she made.

And Riley, 5, is using an antique woodworking tool to create a dowel out of a block of wood.

“This tool is from the late-1800s and it’s still working great,” said Saint Maud’s founder and instructor Karl Zinsmaster. He holds it in place and gives instructions as Riley gets up on a platform so she can reach the crank.

Katie Thoresen
Riley Pietrocatelli, 5, makes a dowel she'll cut down into legs for a trivet she's making.

She throws her whole body weight into it as she grinds the wood into a cylinder.

Later in the class, Riley will use a Japanese hand saw to cut the dowel into smaller pieces to use as legs for the trivet she’s making.

The siblings are all going through the Slöyd Experience. Slöyd is an education system developed in Finland in 1865 and is still widely used in Scandinavian countries.

It’s a series of woodworking projects, each one introduces a new skill and gets progressively harder.

“Everybody starts at the pencil sharpener and works their way up to, right now the last one we worked to is the shelf,” said Zinsmaster. “There’s 13 total in the original foundational curriculum. They all work through it at their own pace. [Brooke’s] working on the shelf. It’s the third one she’s done ‘cause we make it better each time.”

Zinsmaster says the goal isn’t speed or just generating a piece.

It’s about developing and perfecting the skills, which means fixing mistakes as they go or starting over.

“If it’s just starting over on one part of the project or it’s starting over on the whole project, great. It’s part of the process and it’s celebrated,” said Zinsmaster who has plans in the workshop for a wall displaying all the mistakes.

Zinsmaster started Slöyd a couple of months ago.

Becky Pietrocatelli wanted to get her kids signed up as soon as she heard about it.

“We are really big believers in teaching our kids skills that they an use in the real world and most of them learn best by hands-on learning,” she said.

They’ve been taking classes for more than two months now and developed enough skills to help other, newer students with projects.

Pietrocatelli says they’ve even gotten involved in projects around the house.

“I smile big every time I watch them. I get excited because they come home and see them proud of what they’re doing. I get excited because I see them apply what they’re learning at home. It’s very cool. It makes me very excited,” said Pietrocatelli.

It makes Zinsmaster excited too.

Building Saint Maud's

He grew up less than a block from the Pence neighborhood church now called Saint Maud’s, named after Zinsmaster’s old dog.

After moving to the Twin Cities for college and then New York for work, the COVID pandemic drew him back to his hometown.

“I was working remote for about a year doing that and got burnt out staring at Zoom meetings all day. Then this place came up on the market and the rest is history, been working on it now for two years,” said Zinsmaster.

Zinsmaster had gone to school for furniture design.

Katie Thoresen
Karl Zinsmaster created Saint Maud's in Pence, Wisconsin.

But as his career progressed, he spent less time working with his hand actually building the furniture.

He wanted to return to that when he bought the old church that his dad and he had always thought would be a great shop but didn’t have an exact plan for it.

“After kind of spending the first summer here working, I knew I didn’t just want to be in here by myself building things. I was also kind of burnt out on client work too. I wanted to work with people instead of for people. That’s where the maker space came from,” he said.

Saint Maud’s is now a maker space where people can get anywhere from daily to yearly memberships for access to the woodworking tools and assistance on whatever project they’re working on.

There are different classes that have expanded to include skills other than woodworking. Zinsmaster is working with other artists and people with niche skills to add more.

The latest endeavor has been the Slöyd Experience which is an organization out of Colorado that Zinsmaster stumbled across a couple of years ago and now has brought to the Northwoods.

“I went out and trained with them this spring and got certified as a Slöyd Instructor and got to spend some quality time in their classroom with dozens of kids that have been doing these classes all year. It’s part of their schooling. That was it. Once I saw the real deal, I was hooked,” Zinsmaster said.

More kids have been signing up for the course. He hopes to be able to add more workbenches and instructors in the future to help it expand it.

Katie Thoresen

While he loves getting to share his passion with a new generation, Zinsmaster knows they’re not all going to become woodworkers and even work in the trades.

He says the important part is they’ll gain what he calls the “beautiful secret core of Sloyd”, the intangible skills like decision-making, critical thinking, and problem-solving.

“They can make mistakes, do things totally wrong, and bounce back and do it again and get it better and get it right. That’s a huge thing to understand that if I can persevere through messing something up, my opportunities are endless. To have any kind of grasp on that at five, six, 10 years old or whatever, they’re 20 years ahead of me,” said Zinsmaster.

As Saint Maud’s continues to grow, it’s clear that Zinsmaster’s commitment to the community he grew up in does too.

“This is my life plan now. I want to continue digging into the community and growing and offering more diverse things here,” said Zinsmaster. “I feel like you can make big sweeping changes in one generation that’s the big, big blue-sky goal.”

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Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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