William S. Coperthwaite – Pioneering Builder, Educator, Thinker

By Staff
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If you’ve admired (and perhaps lusted after) the sturdy and ever-so-practical circular building called a yurt, you probably have Bill Coperthwaite to thank. And if you are among the many Mother Earth News readers who believe that democracy requires active participation, that joy can be found in hard physical labor, that people need a relationship with the natural world, and that an education system should develop the whole person organically, not authoritatively, you would have discovered in Bill Coperthwaite a kindred soul.

An early contributor to Mother Earth News, William S. Coperthwaite was a shaper of culture and a pathfinder of a workable future. He passed away November 26, 2013 in a one-car accident near his home at Dickinson’s Reach, Bucks Harbor, Maine. He was 83.

Coperthwaite’s beautiful book, A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity, is a celebration of the joy found in day-to-day things done thoughtfully and well – a hand-carved spoon, “democratic furniture,” a cozy, well-designed home that is everything we need and nothing more. His writing offers not only a glimpse of a thoughtful, original and ceaselessly practical individual, but also provides a window onto an important era in our collective history. Contemporary media consistently present the Sixties and Seventies as an orgy of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. But, as Mother’s earliest readers can attest, those decades also involved a quest for new ways to be human, as well as to reconnect with ancient wisdom and traditional skills.

“The main thrust of my work is not simple living,” Coperthwaite wrote, “not yurt design, not social change, although each of these is important and receives large blocks of my time. But they are not central. My central concern is encouragement – encouraging people to seek, to experiment, to plan, to create, and to dream. If enough people do this, we will find a better way.”

Mother Earth News concurs, absolutely.

To learn more about Bill’s outlook on life, his yurt designs and the impact he made on homesteaders around the world, click on any of the articles below.

Bill Coperthwaite: Yurt Builder ExtraordinaireBy the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Editors. 

The Modern Yurt: How Bill Coperthwaite Designed His Own Perfect ShelterBy William S. Coperthwaite

Modern Yurt Construction By Bill Coperthwaite

How to Make an Axe By Bill Coperthwaite

In Memoriam

William S. Coperthwaite: 1930 – 2013 By Steven Foster

Thanks, Bill (With Slideshow) By Peter Follansbee

R.I.P. Bill Coperthwaite By The Year of Mud: Cob & Natural Building Workshops




Bill’s whimsical home in Maine.


Bill working on a project.







Hand-carved spoons made by Bill Coperthwaite and students.

Photos (3) courtesy of Peter Follansbee