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Women of Woodworking – Sarah Marriage, Hoboken, NJ

28 Jan

unnamed-6Sarah Marriage didn’t always know she was meant to be a woodworker. Like most of us the craft sort of found her. In Sarah’s case it was after attending Princeton for architecture as an undergrad. Also like most of us, she yearned to actually make something. Marriage quotes architectural theorist Robin Evans as one of her main inspirations towards becoming an artist, “Architects don’t make buildings; they make drawings of buildings.”

Marriage wanted to design and make something herself using the human scale that inspired her so. She wanted to know that her materials were ethically harvested or produced and that “the other labor with whom I collaborated was treated as well as I treat myself.”

Furniture became her new focus. She moved back to Alaska, got a day job and an apartment and set up her shop in her parent’s heated garage. She didn’t know how to build furniture, but she was going to learn.

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She started off by purchasing “throw-away furniture from Anchorage thrift stores” that she would take apart and and reassemble according to her own design. Hours were spent in bookstores reading anything she could get her hands on to strengthen her knowledge. One day she picked up a book by James Krenov, and his words secured her desire to continue on with furniture making.

Marriage returned to the northeast where she resided in New York City as she worked for Guy Nordenson and Associates Structural Engineers. She then spent a year with her brother and his wife in Baltimore as they rehabilitated their 19th century town home. She also applied to the College of the Redwoods during this time, nearly a decade after first discovering her passion for furniture making. She spent two years there in California and then headed back east where she now shares a shop in Hoboken, NJ with other talented makers, including Thomas Hucker and cuddly Frank the shop cat.

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Marriage pointed out that “in any zone, it seems people have different expectations of men and women,” but also mentioned the different paths that are often taken between the sexes within the craft. “A lot of female woodworkers, including myself, came into our field through art and design education. The traditional pathway to furniture maker, beginning as unskilled labor and working one’s way up through the field to master woodworker: this is typically (not always but typically) a path unavailable to women,” noting that the number of women in the field who started in the traditional shop route are much lower than women who went the academic route.

“Gender isn’t an issue,” says Marriage when she is in the shop or at a school. In other realms of the industry, perhaps a lumber yard, treatment can be much different. “Two weeks ago I went to a new lumber place with another female furniture maker. The first person who interacted with us, as we walked into the yard said “Woah woah where are you goin’?,” thinking we were lost.”

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She also isn’t afraid to point out that she does accept the extra help when needed, “I have a bad back, and will take as much help as I can when it comes to lifting large planks, but beyond that the help is usually unnecessary, and wouldn’t be offered to a man, and at the end of the day I just want to be treated like the competent woodworker who I am.”

Despite a few negatives encounters over the years Marriage feels like her experiences have been beneficial and mostly for the better. “Over all, I think that I have been lucky. I’ve had predominantly positive experiences. I’ve been put in a handful of rather uncomfortable situations, but I’ve never had anyone actively work against me because of my gender, and often I find that there are strong advocates out there in the world for women woodworkers. We’re also pretty good at sticking together.”

While Marriage doesn’t feel like she currently explores gender within her own art, she is interested in expanding ideas of how we determine the gender roles we try to assign within the styles of our work. “I find it fascinating when I am showing my work in a public setting, like an exhibition opening, that people will discuss the furniture itself in gender terms. ‘That’s beautiful, but that wouldn’t work for me… it’s a lady’s desk, right?’ These kinds of comments happen a lot. People seem to seek out gender in objects (‘is this a his-and-hers set?’), and I encourage broadening those expectations (‘it could be his-and-hers, or hers-and-hers, or his-and-his, or just completely unpaired!’).”

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For the future of women in woodworking Marriage thinks growth, reflection, and hard work are the key. “I would like to see more female woodworkers. To me, that’s the crux” she says. “If there were more female woodworkers the field would be more welcoming to female woodworkers. Of course that’s a chicken-egg situation, so I think the next steps are about both encouraging girls to consider pursuing our field and also looking at our own biases, our own expectations of what people are capable of or might be interested in and working to change those expectations at the same time.”

Marriage has an array of events and projects coming up. She’ll be featured at the prestigious American Craft Council Baltimore Show February 20 – 22nd as part of their HipPop program that features emerging artists. She’ll also be serving as the technical assistant to Jennifer Anderson during the “Environment as Muse” furniture course at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts this summer.

Marriage is also a writer within the craft. She is the co-editor and co-founder, along with Luke Cissell and Cara Sheffler, of Works & Days Quarterly, “an online quarterly of arts, letters, music, and no small amount of craft.” While still in school she published her essay A Call to Practice about learning to be a woodworker.

You can find Sarah Marriage on Instagram at @sarah_marriage or on Facebook too. You can also visit her website at sarahmarriage.com

View the landing page and other interviews for the Women of Woodworking series here.

Springtime wanders into the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

30 Apr

I recently had the pleasure of staying a weekend in Chapel Hill, NC. Expecting to be completely run over by students all day, it was a nice, quiet paced weekend to roam about the historic University of North Carolina campus.

Our friends in the area raved about the beauty of  the UNC campus and could not wait to give us the grand tour.  Needless to say we were not disappointed. Being the oldest public university in the United States the UNC at Chapel Hill campus boasts examples of numerous iconic architectural styles. Walking through campus is like a tour through the ages as a wide variety of species of trees all over campus drape your path. There are also fantastic little architectural gems hidden along the way – an unexpected tunnel, a gargoyle curiously perched along the side of a building it was not originally built into…..the sights on campus can even get downright weird sometimes. What’s even more spectacular is that there are stories – fact or fiction – for nearly every building, plant, or unique quirk on campus.

We started off by visiting the legendary Moorehead-Patterson bell tower surrounded by lush, green gardens. What really caught my eye as we got closer was the stunning blue tile that lined the Gothic cathedral ceilings of the breezeways.

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An obligatory long hallway shot:

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What is especially brilliant about this location of campus is that right behind this very traditional red-bricked structure is a fabulous science building with a strong industrial-brutal style. The building is also connected to several others built at different times.

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And then not far up the road – almost within shouting distance – is this brand new, gorgeous modern glass building.

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We then strolled further it across campus, taking note of the magnificent Greek Revival-style Louis Round Wilson library and it’s surrounding buildings – a few were built as early as 1793, others at the beginning of the 1900’s or later.

We eventually made our way to the Coker Aboretum, which is filled with plants and trees form all over the world. This entrance to the arboretum is so fantastic you almost feel as though you are entering another world.

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Other highlights of the arboretum included an impressive collection of Japanese Maple trees, and also this guy:

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These beauties made a little “ring” when you shook them.

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I could go on forever (and post about that many pictures, too) about how truly fantastic the arboretum was. As we finished up the path the light was getting lower we decided to make moves towards Franklin St. We of course stopped and saw the iconic Old Well which doubles as the symbol for the university. I was also particularly taken with the fantastic harvest crown on the top of the columns in front of the Playmaker’s Theatre.

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We eventually made our way to the Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery for some local brews. I recommend their award winning Ram’s Head IPA or their Blueridge Blueberry Wheat for something refreshing and unexpected.

If you follow me on social media, you’ll have noticed in the past weeks I have shared my fascination of this campus several times over, however this post merely scratches the surface of an impressive array of the buildings, character, and the award winning design of the UNC campus. If you are ever passing through I highly recommend a long walk and a quiet moment to enjoy a wonderful display of history and architecture.