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Women of Woodworking – Kelly Meagher, Northwest Arkansas

4 Jun

unnamed-1Kelly Meagher is wood burner and stay at home mom living in Northwest Arkansas. She specializes in botanical wall hangings, and has a unique and interesting story behind her path to woodworking.

Meagher grew up in Mexico with parents working in missions working to help support those trying to leave the drug trade. Her father opened a carpentry shop to provide opportunities to those men seeking a better life.

“Everything in our home, from the cabinets, to the beds, to the dressers were built by my dad. I remember being fascinated with watching him turn raw slabs of wood into beautiful pieces of furniture. To be able to envision an end piece out of nothing, and then be able to execute it was amazing to me – and beautiful,” says Meagher.

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When Meagher became a senior in high school, her and her father embarked on their first joint project together, a hope chest. Meagher shares “I loved every moment of it. I don’t think at the time I ever imagined myself being a wood worker, but I definitely can look back at the moments I spent with him in his woodshop, and know that that was clearly where I fell in love with using wood as a medium.”

Later on, Meagher stumbled onto the wood burning technique she now focuses on. Eight months pregnant with her son, she wasn’t happy with any of the decorations she found while working to decorate her new home. She decided to play around with her husband’s wood burner, and immediately fell in love with her creations. A few months later, Meagher decided to open up her now thriving Etsy shop, Of Thistle and Thyme.

As far as considering whether or not her gender has affected her experience in woodworking, Meagher does not think it has since she is stay at home mom and hasn’t ventured to much into the woodworking community. As far as her clients go, Meagher explains “I’ve noticed that about 90 percent of my customers are women – and I intentionally have tried to reach women as my audience on social media – mainly because my shop is home décor and specifically botanical and floral in detail – so more feminine in nature.” But while her clients at mostly women, Meagher shares that males are more likely to reach out to ask questions about her tools or process, even though they may not be the ones actually buying her product.

Meagher continues to explore her botanical work and admits that there is an inherently feminine direction of her designs. “My first wood burned pieces were ones I made for my own home. And after making them, I fell in love with them and thought they would sell well. So from the beginning I saw my product as home décor, which generally is a more feminine interest – at least at the level of where I’m at in my shop.”

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Meagher’s favorite pieces are always the newest one she makes, but she’s been particularly fond of the food pieces she’s made, especially her artichoke design. Meagher gets her designs from the illustrations of early botanists and traces them onto the wood. Meagher shares more about her process, sharing that “When it comes to design, a lot of thought goes into which prints I choose, and how I edit them when I’m tracing. My goal is always to give my wall hangings a simplistic feel that still feels full or sufficient. And then, really, choosing the right piece of wood to work with is critical. Some grains of wood can really mess with the print and distract from it, and some grains make it impossible to even wood burn a clean image. So my work is very much pairing the right image onto the right piece of wood.“

Meagher has some exciting new plans coming up for brides-to-be and also more floral arrangements. “In the very near future I’ll be offering customized bridal bouquets where I’ll be taking custom orders to wood burn images of individual bouquets for brides. And later this year, I’ll be launching poster size wood burnings of collages of whole flower species. I’m still working out the details on this which is why it’ll come out later this year, but I would say it’s the one things I’m most pumped about.”

For the future of Women in Woodworking Meagher has an optimistic outlook. “I have high hopes for women in woodworking. I think the lines aren’t drawn as tightly as they used to be, and I believe in the near future we’ll see more and more women taking it up as a trade. Women are creative and innovative, and more and more the gender role of trades is changing. It won’t take long for women to see that wood is an awesome medium to work with.”

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Specifically for those looking to start their business and are considering Etsy as their initial platform, Meagher was kind enough to share details of her experiences to those interested. “I originally started my shop with both its own website as well as a store on Etsy. But after a few months I saw a clear advantage to having an Etsy shop with an already established audience versus trying to generate traffic to my own website. The thing about having a trade of any kind, is that not only are you working at your trade, but if you’re boot strapping it like I have, you’re suddenly a photographer, marketer, business developer, and customer service person. It’s a lot to take on, especially if what you really love to do is just create. I’ve found Etsy to be an awesome answer to a big portion of that pressure. They already have an established audience who are looking for handmade products, and I’ve simply have to tap into it. It’s saved me a lot of leg work.

I will say I’ve had a hard time getting traffic to my shop, simply because people aren’t really looking for wood burnings. It’s an old fashioned trade, and while it’s one I’m trying to bring back into modern decor, it’s still not something people are looking for. Very rarely has anyone found my shop by searching for wood burnings. It just hasn’t happened. So while Etsy still provides views from casual browsers, I’ve found that the majority of my actual customers have come from my Instagram account. My social media accounts paired with the familiar Etsy backdrop has been a great pairing for my shop.”

Etsy has provided so many artists and new business owners with the opportunity to explore their passions and turn them into a real job, and a real business. It’s been a pleasure to see someone able to use the platform to develop and grow their craft while simultaneously being able to reach thousands, if not millions of people to help build that foundation.

You can check out Meagher’s Etsy store Of Thistle and Thyme, and be sure to connect with her on Instagram at @ofthistleandthyme and also on Facebook at facebook.com/ofthistleandthyme.

Women of Woodworking – Motoko Smith, San Diego, CA

6 May

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In a day and age where women are striving to have it all, Motoko Smith is no different. This San Diego based homemaker and part-time woodturner has found a way to blend together her family life and passion to create unique wooden bowls and turnings.

Smith stumbled onto woodworking as she explored creative outlets for herself while maintaing a three child household. “I had just taken a pottery class six months before, and I was enjoying it. Then my husband’s work schedule changed and it conflicted with my pottery class schedule….I still wanted to have a creative outlet so when I searched for a class in my neighborhood that allows me to take it, it was the woodworking class at the local adult school. And I fell in love with working with wood!”

Motoko Smith

Motoko Smith

When asked if she thought her gender had affected her experience in woodworking, Smith shares that her experience has been great, “Everyone is extremely nice in this community. Is it because of my gender in the male dominant field? I just think woodworkers are the nicest people anyway!” She also doesn’t think her gender has influenced her work in any way.

Apricot Bowl by Motoko Smith

Apricot Bowl by Motoko Smith

Smith’s favorite piece so far is a natural edge Apricot bowl. It came from the stump of a tree a man was giving away for free on Craigslist. “I didn’t know when I picked up the stump, but he was selling the house where he had the Apricot tree.  When I contacted him again to give him one of the bowls I made from the stump, he was so happy and he shared stories about the tree.  He told me that he was sad to see the stump go, but now he is happy that he can take a part of the stump (the bowl) to wherever he gets settled after selling the house.  And that made me really happy and proud of the bowl.”

Apricot Bowl by Motoko Smith

Apricot Bowl by Motoko Smith

Like most turners and woodworkers, Smith’s design process revolves around the piece of wood she’s selected. “I have my favorite shapes she it comes to bowls; they are simple. Then I look at wood and decide what’s possible with the characteristics I observe: grain direction, natural edge, end grain or long grain, spalted wood and etc.”

Smith is also making her way in writing about the craft. “I’m writing columns for a Japanese DIY/Woodworking about my Woodworking-related learning experiences in states.  I’ve never thought my writing gets published because it’s not my thing even in my mother language.  So I’m grateful for this opportunity. “

Motoko Smith

Motoko Smith

When it comes to the future of women in the field, Smith shares “I would love to see a woman woodworker to be legendary like Maloof, Nakashima….And I hope that inspires next generations to come.”

You can view more of Smith’s work on her Instagram account @leointhewoods or at her website motokosmith.com

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.

Women of Woodworking – Leslie Webb, Georgetown, TX

8 Jan
Leslie Webb - Furniture Designer and Maker

Leslie Webb – Furniture Designer and Maker

Leslie Webb is no stranger to the heat. Living outside of Austin, TX, she has forged a career in furniture design/making, creating an impressive portfolio of works and a stellar resume to match.

Leslie’s interest was initially peaked while perusing a handcrafted furniture catalog one morning while working as a nanny on break from college. She mentioned her interest and the father of the family who was an artist employed her to build shipping crates.

Nine months at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine served as her first official foundation in the craft. She went on to attend the Crafts and Design Program at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, and also served as an apprentice under renowned furniture maker Michael Fortune.

As Leslie has now settled into Texas she continues to create limited small batch works as well as large and commercial productions. It is in this moment of her career that one can look both ways and see either a decorated past or a bright future. But her career and her fortitude weren’t built without some fiery tests from the industry as a single young female with obvious talent.

When asked if she felt like her gender had influence the direction of her work or her current emphasis within her craft, Leslie shared “I’m sure it has, though I don’t really have examples. I believe that gender is intrinsic to who we are and how we experience this world. And of course, that affects everything.”

Linda Lou Rocker - Leslie Webb

Linda Lou Rocker – Leslie Webb

You can look at Leslie’s work and see the thoughtful delicacy in the fine angles of her favorite piece, the Linda Lou Rocker. Her approach to gentle strength within her design provides the viewer a feeling of softness intertwined with a striking, modern design. A fantastic blend of the feminine and masculine.

This balance is also sought by many women trying to find their voice within the industry. Webb shared experiences of doubt from men, whether they were selling her lumber at the hardware store or viewing her work on display at a show.

“At a show I did several years ago, I was actually told to my face by another male woodworker that he didn’t know a woman could build furniture, after insisting for 10 minutes that I must have male employees building everything for me. At the time it made me really mad, but now it just makes me sad for the women in his life. I can only imagine how little he must think of their capabilities.”

Webb also mentioned a public disdain for women within the educational realm. “During critiques, if you were a female and had a good crit, inevitably it would be mentioned that you were praised because the critic “loved the ladies”, not because you actually deserved it. It took me a long time to realize that these reactions and interactions actually had nothing to do with me, that they are just reflections of how other people see the world and gender.”

Lola - Leslie Webb

Lola – Leslie Webb

Despite the unfounded doubts in her competency Webb has created a very fine and unique style of design that splendidly combines sharp design with a comfortable feel. Her work has brought her many opportunities and Webb excitedly shared what’s on the horizon for her.

“Currently, I am working on a credenza/sideboard with sliding doors. I am pretty excited about it because it has been awhile since I made a large storage piece. This past fall I collaborated with Shay Spaniola of bunglo.co on a line of textiles for my Lola Lounge Chair. In the next few months, I will be introducing new pieces from that collaboration. I am also planning an upholstered version of the Linda Lou Rocker.”

You can view more of Leslie Webb’s work at lesliewebbdesign.com

Follow her:

@lesliewebbdesign
facebook.com/LeslieWebbDesign

For those wondering, Women of Woodworking is a new writing project I am excited to launch with this post. See this post and more on my Women of Woodworking landing page.