“Zen and the Art of Woodworking,” Mark Manship’s senior thesis, involved a creative project component: eight benches that fold into four picnic tables, a gift for the Honors House patio.
“I wanted to leave something with the Honors College,” Manship said. “This falls within things that I’ve studied and the career path I’ve had in the past.”
Manship spent a total of 64 hours cutting lumber, sawing, sanding and painting the furniture, which he installed Jan. 2 with the help of his oldest son.
“They’re solid,” professor Timothy Berg, Manship’s thesis advisor, said. “I’m really looking forward to [taking] my classes outside more now that there is seating.”
Berg said the Honors House’s back patio has “suffered” from a lack of seating, in part because of security reasons. Manship’s white benches, which offer a seating capacity of 24, are sturdy, deterring theft.
“I want students to go out there and utilize them,” Manship said. “I hope we get years and years of use out of them.”
Manship, a 35-year-old construction management major and father of three, works full-time as a project engineer for Automated Logic Inc. in Muncie. (For more on Manship and another video about his life experience, follow this link. See a previous News & Notes story about Manship as a nontraditional student here.)
The title of his thesis is derived from the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and compares two styles of thinking as applied to carpentry: individual artistry work vs. mass-production. The written portion, which is still in progress, will include an interview with representatives from Sauder Woodworking Company, a leader in the ready-to-assemble furniture industry.
Manship admits he’s partial to the artisan style. His home is full of his own work: the dining room table, entertainment center, even a dresser for his son’s bedroom.
“That’s where my passion lies,” Manship said. “If you put in one door or a hundred doors, it’s always the same motion and the only benefit is if you get faster or more efficient. But when you’re making an artisan piece, there’s just a lot more personal attachment to the work.”
Manship holds a similar attitude toward education, something that Berg said he immediately noticed.
“Sometimes, when people return to college later in life and they have a family and a job and are trying to better their careers, taking the time to focus on the humanities and other courses we offer in the Honors College can seem like an unnecessary luxury,” Berg said. “We focus on big ideas, on what makes us human, on how we should live. Mark saw the value in that. … I really appreciate his commitment to giving back.”
Editor's note: News & Notes would like to collect photos of students and faculty using the benches. Submit yours in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional photos by Casey Picillio and Mark Manship