Women's Work: Transforming Contemporary Woodworking

The Book

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Picture a woodworker.

Picture a woodworker. Maybe they’re a hipster in a plaid shirt and beard, or a grandfatherly type, dispensing words of wisdom and advice amidst the wood-shavings on the bench in his home garage. Maybe it’s their full time profession, or maybe they’re an amateur or a hobbyist. What’s likely, in any case, is that you pictured a man. But there are women woodworkers across the country who are making resonant and influential work, and there is the potential for many more to enter the field, especially if they see women like them represented in shops, schools, galleries, and books.

Contemporary women woodworkers are actively shaping the future of the medium: in academic settings they train the next generation of artists and craftspeople working in wood; alone and in collective shops across the world, they make work in wood that is transforming the vocabulary of the medium. The resurgence of a maker culture makes this conversation all the more timely.

Our book, Women’s Work, centers on interviews with important women makers, all of whom consider fine woodworking their principal vocation and occupation. These craftspeople are diverse in their practices, representing a wide range of conceptual and material approaches to the medium. Through studio visits, photographs of both space and process, and in-person interviews, the authors shine a light on this rich diversity of practice, and the contributions these artisans make to the understanding of wood as a medium to engage spatial, material, aesthetic, and even existential challenges. Woodworkers (of any gender) find it increasingly difficult to make a living, and we ask women woodworkers about their strategies for making the finances work, finding and designing shop space, and creating communities. We ask women of first, second, and third wave feminism to talk about their experiences, both as women and as woodworkers. The interviewees include—among many others—Wendy Maruyama and Gail Fredell, the first women to earn MFAs in woodworking in the USA;  Yuri Kobayashi, whose technically sublime work blurs boundaries between art, craft, and design; and Sarah Marriage, who is launching A Workshop of Our Own in Baltimore, a supportive woodshop and educational space run by and for women and gender-nonconforming craftspeople.

Alongside profiles of individual makers, we explore how a larger group of women woodworkers innovates by integrating digital technologies and craft, or transforms education across university and community settings. Other women are starting shops with cooperative economic and social models that challenge the framework of late capitalism in the age of Ikea. We also examine the historical archive for invisible histories of women in woodworking before the current generations.

Finally and most importantly we ask what it means to look at woodworking “through the lens of women,” interrogating boundaries and orthodoxies, while arguing that the field of woodworking has been shaped  by the presence of women. While providing neither prescription for women woodworkers, nor a conclusive or summary position, this book poses questions and invites further inquiry.