BROCKWAY — Like many recent high school graduates, Fred Barefield left the halls of his alma mater and was not particularly thrilled about going to another school.
Fortunately for the Brockway Area Junior-Senior High School 2017 graduate, Barefield had a natural talent, drive, and a high-school shop education that could lead him directly to work. He also had the Brockway Schools and Community Education Foundation to give him a head start.
“I got a scholarship from the foundation,” Barefield said. “It came as kind of a surprise considering I had no plans for college. You don’t typically think of people like myself when you think about scholarships. I am very grateful for the help I received in improving my shop.”
Barefield was able to use the scholarship money to augment his shop, allowing him to expand on what he can do. One of the first jobs he undertook after graduation was making nine oak science table bases for science teacher Matt Oknefski’s classroom. The old bases went to Matt Holt’s shop classroom, and Barefield lacquered and finished newer table tops made by the shop class. Those table tops are now on the bases.
“The scholarship was a direct improvement for my furniture-making process,” Barefield said. “I can focus on other areas to improve.”
The shop tables are no real surprise to teachers and students who knew Barefield in school. He spent a lot of time in shop classes and sees those classes as helping him improve as an artist.
“The class that had the biggest impact on me would have been wood shop,” he said. “It was a place that I could experiment on ideas without the cost factor restricting my creativity.”
Of Barefield, longtime shop teacher John Barrow said, “During my time here, I have had many very talented and hard-working students. Fred is perhaps the best woodworking student I have ever had. He is good at everything he does. He always seems to know what to do, even though he often asks for advice, and everything that he does is close to furniture-store quality. Fred has donated a lot of his time, without any complaints, to help our school and community. If I ask him to do something, he puts everything aside and does it immediately.”
Barefield’s family is locally synonymous with the word “carpenter,” so the influence was there in Barefield’s entire life. Family members, classes, and simply doing the work honed his skills, leading him forward. Furniture made in shop classes became prized possessions of the teachers lucky enough to get them, leading Barefield to get commissions to do wood entertainment centers and more.
“I work through spontaneous thought, refined on paper, then tested in the shop,” Barefield said. “Inspiration for a new piece comes from literally anything or anywhere.”
Barefield loves the process of making the piece, describing it as art.
“On a day-to-day basis, my progression seems extremely slow,” he said. “In hindsight, it’s actually amazing to see how quickly things change. This is art for sure. If it felt like work to me, I wouldn’t be talking about it. I would have found something else that makes me feel the way furniture-making does. Something that I also could make a living at.”
Barrow said Barefield made a table for St. Tobias Church, a cabinet and table for the wood shop, tables for the two restrooms in the high school faculty lounge, a long stool for the guidance office, along with the tables in the shop.
“Although I have people to turn to for advice, my plan isn’t as static as one would think,” he said. “My plan is simple: save and reinvest. Repeating this over and over will eventually lead me to my goals. To be honest, I really don’t want to make this huge in terms of operation. That would, I feel, kill the love I have for the craft. But in terms of a customer-following and a name, I, of course, want that to be as large as possible. The number one thing to measure success is happiness. If I can sell enough to support myself and my business, that would be successful to me.”