Master woodworker and community leader Eric Hollenbeck presents a rare breed in today’s technology-obsessed world. While 3D printers, laser cutters, and CAD software have re-defined what it means to ‘make something’, Hollenbeck’s most-modern tool in his impressive arsenal was built in 1948. In this mesmerizing Maker profile from director Ben Proudfoot of Breakwater Studios, we get to see firsthand how Hollenbeck and his Blue Ox studio in Northern California are not only preserving skills that took 25,000 years to master, but also how those same skills are helping at-risk youth and veterans re-discover themselves through the simple powers of ‘making something’. Ultimately, does Hollenbeck’s Blue Ox School present an ideal STEM curriculum that other schools should be paying attention to?

Blue Ox: A Curriculum Model for STEM?

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 1.25.28 PM

As both a kid who ‘fought his way through school’ and a seasoned veteran with experience on the front lines of combat, 65 year-old Eric Hollenbeck has experienced his fair share of what he likes to refer to as ‘a bent spring’: while you may be able to re-form a bent spring, it will never go back to it’s original state. Despite the dark clouds that Hollenbeck has waded through throughout his life, he has found solace in creating custom wood designs and helping others like him do the same:

“I was a student at blue ox for the first 3 years of high school if it was not for Eric and Viv I would not have made it to eureka high school to graduate for my senior year I Am proud to say that I was a student at blue ox community school and it is one off the best places to learn in the world I appreciate you taking your time to honor this man and woman that helped me through the hard times in my life they deserve it more than anybody else I know on this earth thank you.”

-Sarah Barns, former student at Blue Ox (2006-2009)

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 1.26.14 PM

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 1.25.53 PM

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 1.26.03 PM

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 1.26.24 PM

Working in partnership with the Humboldt Office of Education, Hollenbeck’s Blue Ox School offers a regular high school curriculum with a full component of hands-on projects and creative learning opportunities ranging from blacksmithing, ceramics, and woodworking to various print projects and hand-weaving. As Eric mentions in the video, the kids might not fit in at their regular schools but when they’re at Blue Ox, “they fit in by Making”.

Could Blue Ox also be a prelude to the social impact of STE(A)M-based educational models? Let’s certainly hope so.

Head over to Blue Ox for more info on Eric, the projects he’s worked on, and information on the Blue Ox School.


Simon is a Brooklyn-based industrial designer and Managing Editor of EVD Media. When he finds the time to design, his focus is on helping startups develop branding and design solutions to realize their product design vision. In addition to his work at Nike and various other clients, he is the main reason anything gets done at EvD Media. He once wrestled an Alaskan alligator buzzard to the ground with his bare hands… to rescue Josh.