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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.

Dwelling’s Local Makers Series (Ketchup 2014 Part II)

27 Jan

As Santa finished his last delivery, Joseph and I went right back to work to prepare for a very exciting opportunity. The lovely Leigh and Tim McAlpin of Charleston, SC’s leading eco-friendly design and furniture store Dwelling chose Joseph Thompson Woodworks and Black Swamp to open their new LOCAL Maker’s Series, featuring the work of talented local furniture makers.

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Invitation made by Dodeline Design

We were so thrilled to kick of 2014 with an exhibition in our hometown. Since we wanted to give our friends and family the best we had to offer, there were many a late night spent in preparation, especially after we had not one, but TWO boards for table tops blow up in the planer during construction.

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We did manage to document a bit of the construction process despite our hectic schedule: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xd4RgZDnDcc

Once the dust had settled, the show opened beautifully and we were happy to celebrate with our friends and family.

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, Courtesy of Dwelling

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, Courtesy of Dwelling

New Black Swamp cuff bracelets and necklace styles were launched to a very positive reception. This piece features local South Carolina Black Walnut wood.

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, Courtesy of Dwelling

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, Courtesy of Dwelling

Charleston’s new High Wire Distillery provided their delicious locally crafted spirits, making the event a fully local event.

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, Courtesy of Dwelling

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, Courtesy of Dwelling

A few more of my favorite snaps from the opening…..

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Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, Courtesy of Dwelling

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Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, Courtesy of Dwelling

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, Courtesy of Dwelling

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, Courtesy of Dwelling

Photo by Sea Star Arts photography, courtesy of Dwelling

Photo by Sea Star Arts photography, courtesy of Dwelling

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, courtesy of Dwelling

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, courtesy of Dwelling

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, courtesy of Dwelling

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, courtesy of Dwelling

Thanks to the talented Jeni Becker of Sea Star Arts Photography for the wonderful photos, see more snaps from the party here. Thanks also to High Wire Distilling, Dodeline Design, and of course, Leigh and Tim McAlpin of Dwelling for hosting us.

In addition to the opening, we also held a “Meet the Maker” session at Charleston’s first Second Sunday on King for the new year. It was a beautiful day and I loved meeting new people and seeing some old friends, too.

Courtesy of @JWTWoodworks

Courtesy of @JWTWoodworks

The show will be on view at Dwelling until Sunday, February 9th, which will close with another “Meet the Makers” session from 12 p.m. – 5 p.m. Dwelling is located at 165 King St, Charleston, SC.

Check out some wonderful press the show has received from the Charleston City Paper, The Scout Guide, Post & Courier, and Design Feast’s Design Feaster.

Thank you to all of our friends, family, fans, collaborators, and everyone who had even the smallest part in making this show possible. We have been overwhelmed with the support from our hometown, we are so grateful and blessed to have such love in our lives.

From Start to Finish

28 Oct

I was digging through last year’s files a few nights ago and found something really special with an interesting story behind it.

About a year ago at 2012’s Fall High Point Market Joseph and I sat down on a slow afternoon in our space to get some administrative work done.  We were exhausted in the midst of our first showing at High Point and I remember saying “Let’s try to make something positive come out of these few hours.”

After a few minutes of chatting about different work topics we ended up talking about new design inspirations we had in mind. We both had been exploring different seating options so we began to elaborate on that mutual thread.

I think one thing that really helps Joseph and I understand each other as individual designers is that we both find inspiration for designs often from the most unexpected places. Joseph once found a leg shape for a table by looking at a shade drawn on an airplane window just so. While this is exciting and always intriguing, often times our initial sketches end up looking something like this:

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While these hieroglyphs may look impossible to decipher, once I found the paper I showed it to Joseph and we immediately began to trace the progression of the design from where we went from a single back rail to three, where I drew my vision for the initial overall shape of the piece and so on. It was quite neat for us to look at these scratched down shapes and know it was a map in a language that only we could understand.

We were really brought full circle when we put them next to the finished product, our latest dining chair design at Joseph Thompson Woodworks.

2013-09-12 08.02.26Now it all makes sense, doesn’t it?!

Finding that scribbly piece of paper really reminded me of why Joseph and I do what we do and just how powerful the combination of inspiration and positive energy can be.  I hadn’t thought of that tired afternoon till I found that piece of paper and suddenly I became very pleased that this design progressed so naturally and beautifully despite it’s conception occurring in not the most exciting or pleasant of circumstances.

I thought this little story would give an interesting glimpse into our process as designers and makers. Sure, some incredible ideas come from great brainstorming sessions with a crisp sketchpad and freshly sharpened pencils with precise measurements made with a straight edge, but sometimes all you have is a beverage napkin, your third cup of coffee for the day and bags under your eyes. But when that inspiration hits you in the most inopportune of times you better grab a pen and whatever paper you’ve got and get to work.

National and Family Treasures

3 Sep

I’ve always been a bit obsessed with American History, even as a child. My ideal vacation was a trip to Gettysburg instead of a theme park, even at the age of 9.

I also grew up with a family who loved to thrift and go “antiquing.” I still love seeing my Uncle’s antique war memorabilia collection or the vintage goodies my sister finds at her job at an antique store.

Family heirlooms are definitely the most special antiques of all. Not only do they combine years of history and age with sentimental family memories, sometimes, every once in a while, they can also be incredible historical artifacts.

My husband Joseph is basically a descendant of early American “royalty.” He is a descendant of some very notable names that made history throughout the Colonial and Civil War eras. Since he is also an incredibly talented furniture maker, it was only fitting that he got to take on a very special task over Labor Day weekend.

One of Joseph’s famous ancestors is a Founding Father, Thomas Nelson Jr. He was one of the first Governors of Virginia, as well as a member of the House of Burgesses, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Being from Yorktown, VA, his estate was taken over by Cornwallis to be his headquarters during the infamous Battle of Yorktown. Being an ardent patriot, supposedly Nelson offered money to Continental soldiers to destroy his home during the battle.

So why the history lesson? And where do family heirlooms fit into this? Well, Thomas Nelson Jr.’s incredible four-poster mahogany bed has survived and stayed in Joseph’s family for generations.

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Made using traditional woodworking methods that Joseph and I still use in all of our designs today, the bed is a magnificent piece of craftsmanship that has been loved and cared for over the ages by the family. At the request of the family member who now cares for it, Joseph had the honor to take the bed apart and examine it while renovations were being made to the room it is now kept in.

The rails are connected using double mortise and tenon joints.

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Double Tenons on the ends of the rails.

Double Mortise on the posts.

Double Mortise on the posts.

The original maker's mark of "4" to identify matching posts and rails to help in putting the bed back together when taken apart.

The original maker’s mark of “4” to identify matching posts and rails to help in putting the bed back together when taken apart.

The bolts that are used to hold the rails to the posts are original, save for the head of one that was welded onto the original after it was broken. The iron mattress hangers and fasteners are all original. The visible part of the bed has been refinished, the back of the headboard is black with age and expired varnish.

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The carving on the bed’s posts and headboard are absolutely magnificent. The wood is undoubtedly virgin growth mahogany which is pretty much obsolete these days.

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The bed is now used as a four-poster style bed, however it is originally a teester-style bed, the brass adornments are kept in storage however the original fabric is long gone, lost to the ages.

Another notable characteristic about the bed is it’s size. Although it is a queen sized bed, it is much smaller than today’s queen beds, as people were much smaller in stature 250 years ago. Another testament to traditional woodworking techniques is that despite it’s age and several moves across the country to different family members over the years, it is in excellent condition with no structural damage. Beds made even 50 years ago with modern joinery and fasteners may fall apart before this bed will. It is also unknown whether or not this bed was brought over from England or made in the states.

Perhaps my favorite part of the bed, and a testament to the original maker’s eye for detail are these wonderful carved rosettes that cover the bolts on the posts.

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While I was sad to not have been there personally for the deconstruction, I hope to be there when Joseph returns to put it the bed back together. I know it was a very special moment for him to examine such an important piece of American history, his family’s history, and also an incredible source of inspiration for our own furniture work today.

All photos provided by Joseph Thompson.

Side note: I posted a photo of the bed over the weekend to my Instagram page, and low and behold one of my followers and Charleston neighbors is also a descendant of Nelson. It’s a small world after all, folks!

Events and New Work – September 2013

29 Aug

As a busy summer draws to a close and Labor day nears, I wanted to take a minute to share some upcoming events and also new work from the past month or so.

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As many of you already know I recently launched Black Swamp in June. Black Swamp is a naturally inspired accessories line that features my jewelry creations using recycled wood shavings from our furniture designs for Joseph Thompson Woodworks, as well as copper, sterling silver, brass and other fine materials. As of now my designs are available through my online store, blackswamp.co.

Photo by Jen Ray for Black Swamp.

Photo by Jen Ray for Black Swamp.

Black Swamp received some great press over the summer with an inclusion in Charleston Magazine’s print issue for August 2013 as well as a divine feature by Elizabeth Bowers for CHARLIE Magazine in July.

I also had the opportunity to shoot this amazing portrait for Black Swamp with Joseph Nienstedt of JWNPhoto a few weeks ago!

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I told you it was a busy summer! And I’m just getting started.

Next weekend, I am thrilled for Black Swamp and Joseph Thompson Woodworks to team up with Gris Galerie for the OPEN Arts Expo at the College of Charleston Cistern Sunday September 8th from 12 p.m. – 4 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

This will be Black Swamp’s first event ever! I am so pleased for my designs to be making their official debut in Charleston. In addition to Black Swamp baubles, we’ll be bringing a few furniture, decor and wall hanging pieces for Joseph Thompson Woodworks. Click over to our Current Work page on our website or our Etsy shop to get a sneak peek at a few items that might make an appearance.

Again, I couldn’t be happier to hang out with our hometown crowd and show some new designs for the very first time! The support we’ve received from our home base has been incredible, and we can’t wait to celebrate in gratitude with you!

In other news, for those that do not know I am also the Membership Coordinator for a local SC Community Supported Agriculture program, Pinckney’s Produce. We’re gearing up to start our fall harvest season Tuesday, September 17th. If you’re in the Lowcountry or Midlands of SC and are interested in having over 45 different varieties of fresh, local SC grown produce delivered to a convenient location once a week for three months, then definitely give Pinckney’s a look! We have a great food community growing across the state, come be a part of something fun and tasty with me.

Phew! Okay. Just looking at what lies ahead this month has got me tired! I am looking forward to an exciting and busy month ahead. Thanks for all of the support, and I hope to see a few of you out and about over the next few weeks!

Classically Capitalizing on 2013’s Color of the Year

11 Feb

When Pantone announced emerald as the 2013 Color of the Year there was the expected subsequent outpouring of love and admiration for the hue all over the design world. As excited as I was to hear the news, I must admit I felt a little disheartened at the prospect of my favorite color being overdone, overblown and even – *gasp* – trendy.

Since I am a early May baby (and my mother is too) emerald has always been a staple in my wardrobe. I remember receiving my first “real” piece of emerald jewelry in the first grade – a gold ring with a teeny tiny emerald on it from my godmother and beloved Aunt. I’ve been in love with my birthstone ever since, and now that emerald is getting some well deserved attention I wanted to share some thoughts on how to effortlessly incorporate the classic hue into your surroundings.

A little background: The mineral Emerald has an extensive history and has been associated with prominent figures since ancient times, so technically it’s been “So hot right now” since 4000 BC. Cleopatra adored emeralds and they have long been thought to hold mystical powers by a myriad of societies and cultures. Emeralds are thought to represent fidelity and balance, and help promote creativity. They have also been thought to prevent some health problems and aid in business matters. Emeralds themselves can actually vary in shade and depth of color – darker, richer hues are more desirable, particularly in jewelry.

For my fellow adventurists who like to get their hands dirty there are actually some emerald mines you can visit and hunt for emeralds in located in western North Carolina. That sounds like a fun weekend adventure – vacation with a potential payday included anyone?

Now focusing on the color itself, there a lot of ways you can subtly incorporate the hue into your life without a lot of effort or cost.

Plants of course are an obviously easy, cost effective, and simple way to pay homage to the color of the year. Even if you don’t have a green thumb a simple low-maintenance succulent will do the trick.

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Elfin Thyme is also a great choice to decorate your outdoor spaces.

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My first indication that emerald green was making a surge (at least in the home furnishings world) were all of the lacquered emerald finishes I saw at High Point Market in October. Lilly Pulitzer showcased an elegant emerald desk at market, while Del Ray and Associates featured a lovely antique dresser and side table at the Antique and Design Center (if you scroll down those photos, you’ll even catch a peek of me in an emerald green frock!)

Not wanting to make a large decor investment in a trend but still want a classic piece? Opt for a small home accent, such as this vintage emerald green pitcher and bowl set from Anchor Glass in Forest Green.

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For your wardrobe, snag a great pair of emerald bottoms (JCrew shown below) and balance them with a neutral top.

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You can also make Dorothy wish she’d never left the Emerald City with a gorgeous pair of emerald pumps such as these Pour La Victoire beauties.

And of course you can rarely go wrong with a set of emerald baubles. Most recently Beyonce showcased a perfect incorporation of emerald jewelry in an outfit with those spectacular gems she wore at Obama’s inauguration – and there is definitely no faking that elegance regardless of how you feel about lip-syncing.

Obviously emerald is an excellent statement hue guaranteed to catch the eye, thus it’s often best to use it in moderation (As are most things in life, right?) Pair it with other bright colors for a vivacious effect, or even with neutrals as to allow the emerald to be the center of attention – which does make sense after all as Cleopatra wasn’t known for being a wallflower, was she?

(All photos Copyright of Katie Thompson 2012 unless otherwise noted.)