From welder to woodworker: Artist Colin McKenna

Sep 4, 2019

Artist and furniture-maker Colin McKenna could be Dartmouth’s own jack-of-all-trades. 

McKenna started off with a degree in political science, moving on to a career in the startup world and then in finance before finally becoming a hobbyist welder.

“I have really kind of a weird background,” he admitted. 

After getting into welding, McKenna said that around fifteen years ago his friends started asking him to make them furniture. 

And eventually they started asking too much of him. 

“I started getting asked to make things that were just kind of above my skillset,” he said. 

But instead of giving up, McKenna decided to go to school to learn woodworking, and has just started his second year at the North Bennet Street trade school in Boston.

The Hingham native lives in Boston with his family, but has been coming down to Dartmouth year-round as often as he can since buying a house here twelve years ago — and plans to move down full-time as soon as his son finishes middle school

“Hopefully within the next three years or so, we’ll be calling Dartmouth home,” he said with a smile.

He has already put his new skills to good use, making furniture and wall art out of his basement workshop in his South Dartmouth home.

McKenna draws his inspiration from the coastal landscape where he spends quite a bit of time fishing. 

“Our place in Dartmouth is on the water, and we can just walk out and cast a line,” he said. “That’s where I get a lot of inspiration for my stuff.”

At the school he’s learning to make fine furniture — everything from period pieces to more modern cabinets, tables, and chairs — out of wood.

He said he still prefers welding, but only because he’s more familiar with it. 

“I’ve been doing it so long,” he noted. “Woodworking’s still new, and still really intimidating. But the more I get into woodworking, the more I really enjoy it. It’s totally different.”

But McKenna uses both skillsets for the pieces he makes in his own time. “I try to mix metal and wood into both,” he said, which he did over two months this summer when he made eight pieces for Dartmouth’s Art Drive in August.

Normally, it takes around two months to make just one piece. “It was exhausting, but I got it done,” he said with a laugh. 

As for the future, McKenna has his eye on another program in preservation carpentry, which focuses on restoring old buildings.

He said that he wants to diversify his new woodworking skills with something he could put to use on the many historic barns and homes in Dartmouth and Westport.

“Making a living in furniture is difficult,” he explained. “It’s just like being a painter, or any other type of artist. It’s hard. The work, it’s like feast or famine.”

But he loves what he does.

“I try to build stuff that I would put in my house,” he said. “It’s what I get the most joy building.”