Bill Coperthwaite: Yurt Builder Extraordinaire

A Plowboy Interview with Bill Coperthwaite, the founder of the non-profit Yurt Foundation.


| January/February 1973



019-006-01

Bill Coperthwaite takes great pleasure in crafting things of beauty and utility.


PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

For most of his life, Bill Coperthwaite has been deeply involved in trying to temper the synthetic and dehumanized modern world with the folk wisdom of the ages. His search for the ancient "missing links" which he believes that today's society needs so badly has taken him traveling — by dog sled, jeep, jet, thumb and a faithful old Dodge pickup truck — to Mexico, Alaska, Finland, Canada, the backwaters of the U.S. and a thousand points in between. 

In the early 1960's, Bill's restless quest led him to begin experimenting with a new (to modern man) kind ofliving space ... a contemporary/ancient structure of the Mongols called a ger or yurt. Coperthwaite's article about his adaptation and successful utilizationof the yurt led many of MOTHER's readers to build and even live in their own versions of Bill's $500 round house. Similar publicity in other magazines and countless newspapers has spread Coperthwaite's ideas to additional thousands and helped to create a steady demand for Bill's modern yurt plans. 

It is characteristic of Coperthwaite, however, that he has not been content to merely settle back and develop the sale of his drawings and instructions into a thriving little mail-order business for his own personal profit. Not at all. Instead, Bill has plowed the (admittedly small for the undertaking) cash flow into a non-profit Yurt Foundation, designed to "collect folk wisdom from around the world and combine it with contributions from modern knowledge for the purpose of creating a lifestyle which will be simpler and in more intimate contact with the natural world while promoting intellectual and creative fulfillment." 

Whew! That's some big bite for one man to try to chew. Then again, behind those laugh wrinkles around his eyes, Bill Coperthwaite is some big man. To capture a littleof his infectious spirit, MOTHER recently sent Bruce Williamson to visit Coperthwaite's Bucks Harbor, Maine, headquarters to talk with Bill about his work, past experiences and dreams of the future. 

As some of MOTHER's readers already know, Bill, the Yurt Foundation has pioneered the development and distribution of modern designs based on the traditional home of the Asian nomad. What's more, you've used the proceeds from the sale of yurt plans to organize a traveling museum that takes an exhibition of Eskimo artifacts to remote villages in Alaska. And beyond that, you're engaged in collecting and classifying a wide variety of folk knowledge. What's the basic idea behind all these projects? 

Essentially, we're gathering information especially traditional knowledge from many cultures to help build a better society.





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