By Glenda McCarthy
The smell of sawdust and the roar of power tools may not come to mind when you think of creating art, but for Justin Bennett these familiar sights and sounds are all a part of his craft.
The 20-year-old cabinetmaker is at the top of his game, creating beautiful hand-crafted cabinets and furniture from raw materials – a skill he honed at CNA. Those skills were recognized recently with a bronze medal at the WorldSkills Americas competition in São Paulo, Brazil. The years of hard work and months of preparation paid off, making Justin an internationally recognized cabinetmaker.
But reaching that level of success didn’t happen overnight. Justin was lucky to discover his love of wood-work while still in high school, where even then his focus and dedication stood out. Gary Murley, Justin’s high school shop teacher, vividly recalls the high level of work Justin put into each piece.
“Everything had to be perfect – far beyond what is expected of most students in the class. Justin always chose something that was very difficult and very often he would choose things he hadn’t done before, so he was always trying something new.”
Gary recalls the nursery rhyme “Good, better, best, never let it rest” and feels there’s no better fit than applying it to Justin. “It means you’re always trying to improve yourself and he’s a good example of that. He’s always trying to make it better and every project was more difficult than the previous, every skill he developed was better than the last one he tried.”
When Justin expressed an interest in carpentry as a possible career option, Gary encouraged Justin and suggested CNA’s Cabinetmaker program.
“His eyes lit up and it was like that little gold sparkle was in his eye,” Gary recalls, adding he’s absolutely delighted to have had the opportunity to watch Justin excel at his craft. “I knew way back then that he had the skills, he just needed to practice. He certainly had it in his heart – there is no mistake about that. I’m not overly surprised at his success but I am delighted.”
It didn’t take long for CNA Cabinetmaker instructor Kelly Tompkins to recognize Justin’s raw talent.
“Cabinetmaking isn’t just about building kitchen cabinets,” Kelly says. “It’s about building furniture; it’s about working with hand and power tools and creating different pieces of wood work. It’s a beautiful environment to work in. It’s very rewarding because you’re being very creative and working with wood.”
And Justin certainly excels in that environment.
“It comes very natural to him. He’s like a sponge and whatever you show him he eats it up and wants to know more,” Kelly continues. “He asks you questions and he’s enthusiastic about it. Whatever he learns, he goes out and he practices it and that’s the way to hone your skills. Not a lot of people have that passion like he does.”
Justin has a quiet confidence and level of patience, which shows in his work. But if you ask him about his skills he’s very modest, never dreaming the program at CNA would take him so far.
“It’s hard to describe the feeling,” Justin says of taking a bronze medal. “It’s nice to see the months and years of work pay off and to be recognized that way but I didn’t think I would go so far.”
He says when he applied to the Cabinetmaker program it was to see if he could take something he loved and turn it into a career.
“I only took the course because I thought it was a career I would enjoy. I never realized it could take me to the national competition and then Brazil.”
There were five people competing for the medals in Brazil and with numerous spectators it could have been distracting, but Justin never lost his focus.
“As far as crowds go, once I get started at the work I just tune out everything. I don’t pay attention to the crowds watching or anyone coming by. Once I start on a project I’m completely wrapped up in it and focused on it. I ignore everything around me.”
That ability to be so focused translates well into his job at Jasper Kitchen and Bath in Corner Brook. While he’s never thought of what he does as creating art per se, he does find it extremely gratifying.
“Turning rough lumber into furniture is what drew me to the trade. When you have rough lumber it doesn’t look like much – just boards laying around, but when you are able to turn it into something it’s very rewarding.”
Kelly describes Justin as a great ambassador for the Cabinetmaker program at CNA, although Justin says he will never get used to people praising his abilities. “It’s a lot to take in. It’s nice that people think your work is good and think you’re doing a good job.”
Modest words indeed from someone who has been internationally recognized.