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Queen City Carpenters

Dennis Maher is using traditional methods to train a modern workforce

Dennis Maher tackling a project with carpentry assistants Sarah Campbell (middle) and Viktoria Ciostek (right) at Maher’s workshop—a repurposed church.

Dennis Maher tackling a project with carpentry assistants Sarah Campbell (middle) and Viktoria Ciostek (right) at Maher’s workshop—a repurposed church.

By Olivia W. Bae

As carpenters turn increasingly to high-tech machinery and software to ply their craft, old-fashioned woodworking has become a rare skilled trade. Dennis Maher, a painter, sculptor and clinical assistant professor of architecture at UB, is trying to do something about this.

Two years ago, Maher purchased the former Immaculate Conception Church at 150 Edward Street, renaming it Assembly House 150. Currently he is transforming the building into a workshop, art gallery and headquarters for the Society for the Advancement of Construction-Related Arts (SACRA). He co-founded SACRA in February with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s Innovation Lab to develop what he calls a “Buffalo-centric” apprenticeship program. The purpose: to teach fine woodworking skills to a modern construction labor force.

Working with local carpentry guilds, vocational programs, and individual students and artisans, Maher has begun creating art installations that are displayed in galleries and public spaces around Buffalo, while reshaping the dialogue around the city’s evolving architecture. One recent project is a quirky assemblage of recycled wood, antique furniture and battered books—or, as SACRA carpenter Viktoria Ciostek (BA ’04) calls it, a “cabinet of learning.” The seemingly haphazard structure highlights the beauty and usefulness of fine woodworking, fusing modern concepts with traditional techniques.

In 2017, SACRA’s workshop and training space will move east after renovations of a historic Bailey Avenue cottage are completed (the public gallery will remain in the church). There, experienced instructors will teach the next generation of carpenters to incorporate history and craftsmanship into Buffalo’s new buildings.

One of Maher’s goals for SACRA is to connect the East and West Side communities through its two locations. “I like what happens when people with different backgrounds and expertise all come together,” he says.”