“I want to live in a society where people are intoxicated with the joy of making things.”
-William Coperthwaite, from A Handmade Life
Who is Bill Coperthwaite?
Dr. William Coperthwaite dedicated his life to learning from the craftspeople of ancient cultures and applying their indigenous technology to modern materials and design. An innovative educator, Bill has used the classroom, seminars and hands-on workshops to instill, in those who will listen, a vision for a simpler life, a more intimate relationship with the environment, and an approach to “democratic design” in which all participate in the creation of their life and culture.
On November 26, 2013, Bill passed away in an automobile accident.
In the early 1960′s Bill Coperthwaite was
inspired by the Mongolian yurts in a
National Geographic story.
In 1962, while reading a National Geographic article, Dr. Coperthwaite recognized the folk genius in the design of the traditional Mongolian yurt. He found in the yurt both rich potential for creative design and an opportunity to develop a simple dwelling that people could build themselves. Bill designed the tapered-wall yurt to enable people to play a larger role in creating their own shelter, using a design that reduces required building skills to a minimum while still producing a beautiful, inexpensive permanent shelter.
“A Handmade Life”
Bill Coperthwaite’s first book, A Handmade Life, was released in hardcover by Chelsea Green Publishing in 2004. The volume won the 2004 Nautillus Award (Honoring Distinguished Literary Contribution to Conscious Living and Positive Social Change). A Korean translation was published in 2005 and a paperback edition of the English version was released in 2007.
Publisher Chelsea Green describes A Handmade Life:
William Coperthwaite is a teacher, builder, designer, and writer who for many years has explored the possibilities of true simplicity on a homestead on the north coast of Maine. In the spirit of Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, and Helen and Scott Nearing, Coperthwaite has fashioned a livelihood of integrity and completeness-buying almost nothing, providing for his own needs, and serving as a guide and companion to hundreds of apprentices drawn to his unique way of being.
A Handmade Life carries Coperthwaite’s ongoing experiments with hand tools, hand-grown and gathered food, and handmade shelter, clothing, and furnishings out into the world to challenge and inspire. His writing is both philosophical and practical, exploring themes of beauty, work, education, and design while giving instruction on the hand-crafting of the necessities of life: house, tools, clothing, and furniture. Richly illustrated with luminous color photographs by Peter Forbes, the book is a moving and inspirational testament to an new/old way of life.
A Handmade Life may be purchased at the yurtinfo.org bookstore.
What is The Yurt Foundation?
“The yurt is a symbol of cultural blending. We blend what we’ve learned, in this case from Mongolian culture, with knowledge from our own time and culture.”
The Yurt Foundation is a nonprofit educational organization established to gather folk knowledge from the cultures of the world and place it in a contemporary framework, thereby creating a reservoir of ideas for designing ways of living that are simpler, more beautiful and more just. The Yurt, as modified by Bill Coperthwaite, is a symbol of this cultural blending, combining the folk wisdom and design of ancient Mongolia with the modern materials of milled lumber, glass, and steel aircraft cable.
Before his death, Bill had created a community to continue the Yurt Foundation as a trust. The foundation is still in operation.
The Yurt Foundation homestead in Maine has been an experiment in cultural blending and simple living. Since the release of A Handmade Life in 2004, Bill continued work on a series of children’s books about a young fellow named Willie growing up at the homestead.
Additionally, the Archives Project was started in 2008 with the goal of making information from the Yurt Foundation archives accessible to a world-wide audience through an online website.
Bill Coperthwaite would teach workshops on design and “the handmade life” in which participants use hand tools to craft a chair or knife, or carve a bowl. The class learns not only specific skills but also concepts of democratic design that can be applied to all of life. A goal in all of Bill’s workshops was to instill confidence and encourage engagement in cultural change and the ongoing development of design “by the people” in a community context.
Yurt building workshops provide training in the basic skills required to build a tapered wall wooden yurt. With a crew of 8-20 people, the workshops offer an opportunity for the group to learn about tools, develop building skills, and create their own simple structure in five to ten days. Bill Coperthwaite has led over 300 yurt-building workshops with families, schools and non-profit organizations.
In addition to construction time, Bill included periods of discussion using slides he has gathered from around the world. If you are interested in hosting a yurt-building workshop, write to Bill with details about your project.
Can I buy yurt plans?
To order yurt plans, send a check or money order made out to the Yurt Foundation to the address below. Bill has no telephone and no email.
- $25 for Tiny (10′), Little (12′) and Standard Yurts (17′ diam)-all in one plan
- $50 for Concentric Yurt plans (1,000 sq. ft., 36′ diam)
- $75 for Family Yurt plans (2,700 sq ft, 54′ diam)
Tell me more about the plans.
- The Standard Yurt: This is the simplest yurt to build, and works well as an office, guesthouse or study. The smaller sizes (10′ and 12′) are ideal for a bathhouse or sauna.
- The Concentric Yurt: This is really one yurt within another. The inner yurt supports the roof of the outer one, saving in materials and providing a larger living space under one roof than the Standard Yurt allows. This concentric way of dividing the circle gives a delightful feel of flowing space in the outer ring, and a sense of shelter and seclusion in the inner yurt. The inner yurt is raised a half story, with a resulting under-story that provides space for a couch, bookshelves, pantry, storage, bunks, etc. Concentric yurts are used as permanent homes, summer homes, community common rooms, and seminar and library spaces. The Concentric Yurt has five times the space of a Standard Yurt and, with 26 windows, is flooded with light.
- The Family Yurt: This plan was developed to provide a structure that would be pleasant to live in and allow people to build the yurt in stages, thereby avoiding borrowing. The building can advance from stage to stage as money, time and energy become available.
“And about those calendars…”
Every year Bill produced a Yurt Foundation calendar, following a theme and including pictures and inspiring, thought provoking quotes. The sale of calendars supports the work of the Yurt Foundation. They may be ordered from the address below for a cost of $12 per calendar or 8 calendars for $60 (includes shipping).
The Yurt Foundation is supported by seminars and design workshops, individual donations and the sale of calendars, yurt plans, and Bill’s book, The Handmade Life. You may contact the Foundation or Bill Coperthwaite by writing to:
The Yurt Foundation
Machiasport, ME 04655
Bills foundation has no telephone and no email address.
A children’s yurt built by Bill Coperthwaite at a school for the blind.
A bamboo yurt being built as a health center during a workshop with Future Generations in Arunachal Pradesh, India.