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Women of Woodworking – Keira James, Staveley, England

16 Mar

unnamed-2Keira James’ introduction to woodworking shows that it’s never too late to follow your dream. James took two woodworking classes in high school that served as her original foray into the world of woodworking. James took the class twice “….because I failed the first time (I didn’t finish my coffee table.)” While James didn’t take to the craft initially “It’s not something I’m naturally gifted at,” she explains, the passion to make items of quality stayed with her. “I actually put it on my bucket list. The interest has always been there even though I’m not sure where it originally came from.”

Despite some nasty chisel cuts and frustrations with plane blades in high school, it wasn’t until James turned 25 that she realized it was time to follow her dreams. “I was 25 and realized I wasn’t passionate about anything I was doing in life.” After trying a few hobbies James moved to the UK for two years but the desire to make fine furniture never left her. “With all of these positive changes I kept going back to wanting to make furniture and often would spend hours researching different courses and options to learn the skills.”

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After some soul searching and discussions with family, James put her traveling plans on the back burner to save money to take a course. Even with the support of her family James said she was still nervous about making the leap, “I had quite a bit of anxiety leading up to the course which is really unlike me. I was scared I had made a terrible mistake. What if I didn’t like it? What if it is a big waste of money? What if I’m not good enough? What if I’ve wasted all of this time living a quiet life and saving hard and it’s all for nothing?”

Most of those questions were answered once James started her course and the anxiety dissipated. Still, she put immense pressure on herself at first. “Another guy started on the same days as me and he was much faster, I was always playing catch up, spending extra time at the workshop so I wouldn’t fall behind. I was sore all of the time, my hands, wrists, arms and shoulders. I even dreamt I had broken my hands.”

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Despite the pain and stress James pressed on, “Eventually my body got stronger, the extra time I spent started to pay off. I realized I had nothing to prove to anyone and stopped putting so much pressure on myself.” Now James spends six days a week in the shop out of love for what she does, not out of fear or frustration.

James doesn’t think her experiences as a female have differed much from her male counterparts, even though she was the first female and the first foreigner at her school. As far as her gender influencing her work, while James mentioned that in a recent critique one of her cabinets were described as more “feminine” than the other’s projects, “I’ve never really considered work in terms of feminine or masculine.”

James' most recent project, a desk.

James’ most recent project, a desk.

James enjoys each new piece more than her last. Her most recent project is a desk that gave her the opportunity not only to design and build her own piece from start to finish, but it has also shown her a new niche to enjoy of hand shaping wood. “It is one of my favorite things to do….I spent about a week on the legs and I loved every minute of it.” The desk also features an impressive 76 dovetails.

James just finished her course at Waters & Acland in Staveley, England, and will be enjoying a few months of work and some fun in the UK before she heads home to Australia. She already has a few requests for pieces so she doesn’t think it will be long before she sets up shop once she returns. James is also qualified as a Speech Pathologist and works in rehabilitation of stroke victims while they are in the hospital.

For women in woodworking, James shared that she would like to see “…a community of female woodworkers to share our successes and teach each other, and to raise our profile. It would be nice if there were young girls who were thinking about woodworking as a career to look to the internet and find a group of talented female makers to show that even if it is male dominated that females can be excellent makers as well.”

While James does not have a website yet, you can follow her journey from recent graduate to professional woodworker on her Instagram account, @meraki_furniture.

Women of Woodworking – Jimmi Wingert, Los Angeles Area

18 Feb

unnamedIf there is one thing you can count on, it’s that Jimmi Wingert ’s work will rise to the occasion. Skill and imagination dance off of Wingert’s fingertips as a custom inlay artist and the result is nothing short of dazzling. Her intricate hand-cut inlays are not only made with beautiful materials such as mother of pearl, the delicacy of the designs is what really captivates you as you see tens of tiny little pieces all perfectly arranged to create an equally as beautiful scene. Then, put that scene on a stunningly handmade musical instrument someone else has dedicated themselves to creating and are placing in her capable hands, and you’ll be on Wingert’s level.

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Chickadee fretboard, Ed Claxton Guitars

Wingert had a different viewpoint of woodworking than the majority of us growing up. She had the opportunity to watch her mother develop her own passion for woodworking as a luthier. “I watched her build her shop, tools/jigs and career with not much more than the help of library books and determination,” says Wingert.

Although she wasn’t initially taken with woodworking, Wingert credits a commissioned piece her mother received from Larry Robinson as her initial spark of inspiration. “Larry had done a beautiful inlay representation of Hokusai’s Great Wave on a fretboard. I had seen many traditional inlays before, but never had I seen an inlay that made me think of it as an art form on its own, the guitar being the canvas,” shares Wingert. She began studying Robinson’s The Art of Inlay books and videos. She worked at her craft and eventually overcame her hesitations to work on handmade guitars that already had many hours and more invested in them by others.

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Four Seasons headstock, Wingert Guitars

Wingert doesn’t feel that she’s experienced much gender bias within the craft, partly due to her masculine name. “Over the years I have definitely surprised a few clients over the phone, I was not what they were expecting, but they weren’t upset by it.” She also credits the mostly male luthier community for welcoming her with open arms. “I’ve worked with a lot of amazing builders, but my mom being the only woman so far. Everything has been positive and I credit my mom for paving the way. She set the example that I really could do anything I wanted and she even made me question my own preconceptions of what women are capable of.”

Wingert does think that her gender has played a role in developing her work. She credits her good listening skills as a “feminine strong point” and believes in enables her to connect with her clients better, even if they are struggling to convey what they want from her work. Delving even further into her own style, Wingert says “My work does look feminine and I’m not entirely sure how much of that is me. You would be surprised by how many men request flowers and even, specifically, pink flowers.”

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Woman and Vines, Kinnaird Guitars

Wingert’s favorite piece is one of her most recent, Woman and Vines, “…usually my favorite piece is whatever I just finished. I try to push myself to do more/take more risks with each piece.” Wingert also shared that she’s also had some inquires about putting her work on some furniture pieces recently and she is looking forward to the challenge. “It’s exciting to me because I’ve almost exclusively worked on instruments, which have limited space to work within. It will be nice to do something different for a change.”

You can view more of Wingert’s work on jimmywingertinlay.com and follow her on Instagram @jimmiwingertinlay

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.

Ketchup 2014 Part I

24 Jan

Happy New Year Everyone!

Since I haven’t posted to my blog since November, it’s safe to say the past few months were a total blur and as well as a blast. I did manage to snap a few photos and explore some awesome new things since November, so here is Part I of the great Katie Thompson Ketchup of 2014.

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I recently started a new series of “wood paintings” using my beloved wood shavings. I developed this technique from my Art with a BANGS project in which I first used the process on a pair of tennis shoes.

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We celebrated a wonderful Thanksgiving with our families and had a lot to be grateful for. We enjoyed a week of “rest” before Joseph and I headed off to…..

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Chicago! One of my favorite places in the world. Joseph and I exhibited our Joseph Thompson Woodworks designs at the One of a Kind Show at the Merchandise Mart again this year.

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We did manage to sneak away to find some fun and inspiration during our visit. We enjoyed a comedic performance over a cold beer at the famous Second City, and upon our arrival we were promptly placed in the front row and both heckled accordingly by the comics. Our faces hurt for the next 24 hours from laughing so hard.

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We also saw some really interesting wooden items during our stay. A delightful visit to our space at the show wore this amazing Big Leaf Maple Burl vintage top hat:

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Also spotted at The Field Museum was this breathtaking woven shawl made from tree bark. It was exhibited back at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

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While at the Field Museum we also enjoyed an exhibition of rising contemporary Native American artist Bunky Echo-Hawk’s work, “Modern Warrior.”

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Other highlights of the trip included a magnificent meal at Chicago’s new Peruvian delight, Tanta. The Clasico Ceviche was amazingly balanced (I actually ENJOYED eating a habanero pepper) and the service was outstanding. Also on the walls are some amazing work by the talented contemporary muralist Jeff Zimmerman.

Upon our return, we dashed down to SpaceCraft Studios in Charleston for the Avondale Holiday Winterfest. While torrential rains shook the event up, we made the best of it and had a blast meeting new local makers and sharing some Black Swamp jewelry.

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I also had the pleasure of making a quick day trip with friends to Columbia, SC to enjoy Annie Leibowitz’s “Pilgrimage” exhibition at the Columbia Museum of Art (no photos were allowed, sadly.) We also enjoyed a unforgettably delicious and locally sourced lunch at Motor Supply Co. Bistro.

Finally, the Christmas holiday arrived and Joseph and I enjoyed out very first Christmas tree together. After speaking with friends who have purchased potted trees for years, we decided to get a potted Deodara Cedar from a local grower for our Christmas tree. We bought our first set of vintage recycled Christmas ornaments from maker Beth Dalton of Charleston, and will be planting the tree before winter is over so we can enjoy our first holiday together in our new place for years to come.

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Phew! That was quite a few weeks. I’ll be back to share updates from the new year next.

Art with a BANGS Show

11 Nov

Joseph and I had the awesome opportunity to participate in a recent group show Art with a BANGS at Redux Studios in Charleston, SC. Produced also by our friends at Gris Galerie and the Charleston Shop Curator, a small group of artists were enlisted to customize a pair of BANGS shoes to be auctioned off for charity.

BANGS Shoes is an amazing tennis shoe brand Founded by Charleston Local Hannah Davis. BANGS’ slogan is to Stand on Issues, with sales from each shoe going to different types of nonprofits focused on empowerment in their respective fields (education, etc.)

2013-09-23 19.47.33What our pair originally looked like.

Including a DJ, the event also featured a special SpaceCraft Studios sponsored area where attendees customized their own pair of BANGS on site.

This project was especially fun and challenging. I enjoyed combining ideas and techniques generated by my accessories line with a slice of contemporary art and fashion using my favorite medium at the moment, wood shavings.

I also enjoyed returning to Redux to show my work for the first time. I had the great opportunity to intern at Redux during my last summer at the College of Charleston. In the blistering heat of July in that old piano warehouse in Downtown Charleston I learned so much about the fundamentals of managing a nonprofit arts organization. I also gained experiences and insight into studio practices of various types that helped formulate my own fundamentals as a designer and maker. I couldn’t help but get nostalgic when I stopped in to drop off our work for the show.

2013-10-06 21.05.31The finished product.

The shoes ended up being a hit at the silent auction! Several bids were made before we left, so I am happy that the shoes brought in money for a great cause. We also hung a piece from our Joseph Thompson Woodworks Sunken Pecky Cypress series, and a new Black Swamp necklace design made it’s debut as well.

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There were also some other amazing artists and dear friends in the show, including Johnny Pundt, Sarah Stewart, Greg Colleton, Greg Hart, Patch Whiskey, Flooded Streets, Michelle Jewell of Finkelsteins Center, Becca Barnet, Allison Merrick of SpaceCraft Studios, and more.

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2013-10-12 18.56.47Becca Barnet

Thank you again to Elizabeth and Greg at Gris Galerie, the amazing Stacey and the team at Redux, BANGS Shoes and the Charleston Shop Curator for having us! We had such a great time and were pumped to be included with such an amazing group of artists and makers.

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.