Fine Woodworking and Women’s History Month, Part Three: Giving credit where it’s due

At least one commenter has questioned why a week of attention given to women in particular should be necessary at this moment in history, when posts on social media suggest there are already so many women in woodworking that the matter of representation in traditional publications has become a non-issue. That there are many women woodworkers is certain – and as with most kinds of social change, this increase is largely due to those who have been speaking and writing about what students of social change call “barriers to entry.” As commenter Steve Hogarth (on Instagram @stevehogarth) took pains to point out,

“[The term] ‘barriers to entry’ covers more than straightforward sexist discrimination. It includes things like, but not limited to: being told all your childhood that things like that aren’t “for you,” gendered school curriculums, teachers and tutors providing more guidance and opportunity to the ones they feel ‘more likely to pursue/succeed in the field,’ not seeing anyone that looks anything like you in magazines and publications, not seeing anyone like you being given a high profile in the industry, seeing people like you being patronised, harangued, and told how they could do it better by people who think they know better because of how they were born.”

I appreciate that some of this may appear to be a stretch, but having lived through all of the above, while accepting that that was “just the way things are” and not complaining about it, because I was brought up to get on with things and plow through the figurative mud, I can attest to the potential of such seemingly negligible experiences to discourage members of various demographics from getting involved in one activity or another. This stuff is exceedingly nuanced. And the nuance just makes it more insidious (from the Latin word for ambush; in other words, it’s hard to see until you’ve already been “attacked,” to continue with the ambush metaphor).

So today I’m going to mention some people who have worked hard to bring about the change we’ve seen and continue their efforts to make things better. I hesitate to list people and publications in this series because I will inevitably be leaving many out, so please understand that this list is not meant to be anywhere near comprehensive. My point is to give credit where it’s due, as well as encourage those interested in learning more to do so from these and other people.

For me, the most influential person on this subject has been Megan Fitzpatrick. It’s ironic to read some comments that imply (or state outright) that I should listen to other perspectives on this subject, considering that my present views, which I’m sharing in these posts, are quite different from those I held just a few years ago – namely, “just get on with your work and don’t even mention gender.” It’s Megan who first persuaded me of the point Steve Hogarth made above. When she invited me to make three presentations at Woodworking in America circa 2015, I was blown away by the diversity of presenters she had made a point of including. Not only do such efforts provide a picture of “what woodworkers look like” that’s more in line with reality; they also help bring new people into the field, which is essential to the survival of any craft.

Laura Mays has been *seriously* influential with her calls to increase the representation of women and members of diverse demographics in woodworking publications, teaching, learning, and elsewhere. She and Deirdre Visser have authored a forthcoming book, “Making a Seat at the Table: Women Transform Woodworking” related to a 2019-2020 exhibition by the same name, which was held at Philadelphia’s Center for Art In Wood. As Director of the Fine Woodworking Program at the Krenov School, she is actively working to increase diversity in the field.

Sarah Marriage (@sarah_marriage) used her award from the John D. Mineck Furniture Fellowship to start Baltimore-based A Workshop of Our Own, which offers shop space and classes to women and gender-non-conforming others, as well as Black, Indigenous, and other people of color.

Chris Schwarz (@lostartpress) has championed the cause of diversity among woodworkers in ways that often go unnoticed (because that’s how he rolls).

Katie Thompson regularly features work by women, hosts podcasts, and shares a variety of resources at @womenofwoodworking on Instagram.

Annie Evelyn of Crafting the Future (@annie_evelyn_furniture), Claire Minihan (@cminihantravishers), Kelly Harris (@kellyhappis), Danielle Rose Byrd (@danielle_rose_byrd), and Amy Umbel (@amy_umbel) are just a few other accomplished woodworkers who work hard to encourage others.

You can find a dazzling variety of women woodworkers in the Instagram stories linked to Leslie Webb’s feed @lesliewebbdesign

This isn’t even the tip of the iceberg of those who have contributed to making this difference – not to mention those women who, for decades, have been successful woodworkers and thereby provide examples for us all, among them Judy Kensley McKie, Lynette Breton (@lynettebreton), Meryll Saylan, and Aimé Ontario Fraser.

A number of woodworking schools now offer scholarships to women and people of color. Among them are the Krenov School, Port Townsend School of Woodworking, Fireweed Woodshop of Minnesota, the Florida School of Woodworking, Penland, and the American Association of Woodturners. Again, these are only a few of those who deserve recognition on this score. If you’d like to share other resources, please do so in the comments. The links to this content on Instagram follow, in case you’d like to read or add to the comments.

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3 responses to “Fine Woodworking and Women’s History Month, Part Three: Giving credit where it’s due

  1. What a great post and thanks so much for recognizing Meghan Fitzpatrick! What an inspiration.

  2. Seeing my name after Judy McKie and Merryll Saylan gives me goosebumps. Small correction is spelling if Merryll and my Instagram is @lynetterbretondesign.
    Many thanks for these reflections. Many thanks.

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