About Fireweed Community Woodshop
Pendant by instructor Sheilla Actis
The mission of Fireweed Community Woodshop is to empower women and non-binary folks through the art of woodcraft. Woodworking is an incredible skill that is both practical and creative. The act of woodworking builds confidence and strengthens the imagination. Fireweed Community Woodshop’s goal is to introduce women and non-binary folks to tools and techniques through classes, while providing equipment, workspace, and community to help women and non-binary flourish within the craft.
Carving by instructor Oudia Vincent
Fireweed Community Woodshop provides a workshop where women and non-binary folks can learn at their own pace with supportive female and non-binary staff. We all have different learning styles and entry points into craft. Some students need time to understand the process without help. Others want guidance through each step. Fireweed Community Woodshop is sensitive to the needs of each student and want to know what your learning style is so that we can support you accordingly. We encourage a space where women and non-binary folks feel free to ask questions and share their personal experience or inexperience for that matter. Vulnerability is an asset to learning.
By putting women and non-binary folks in leadership roles, Fireweed Community Woodshop puts women and non-binary folks in the role of expert. Our goal is to create role models for young women and non-binary folks and girls to observe female and trans woodworkers. Our instructors come from both the art or craft world, but all have a shared experience of being a female or trans learner in the world of wood. By living within the current gender dynamics of woodcraft, our instructors have a unique sensitivity to helping women and non-binary folks get over the hurdle of entering the world of wood working.
All of the goods for sale at Fireweed Community Woodshop are made by women or non-binary makers. Women and non-binary folks are still making 80 cents for white women, 63 cents for Black women, and 54 cents for Latinx women to the dollar compared to men. This is one shop where you know you are supporting women and non-binary folks and don’t have to double check that the maker is female or non-binary.
Just to clarify, we love our male woodworkers too. We are not trying to male bash or take anyone down. We believe there is plenty of space for both women and non-binary folks and men. The ultimate goal is gender equality. With the current state of woodworking it is a hard field to enter. There are more men than women and non-binary folks and there is a long lineage of knowledge that has been passed down from grandfathers to fathers to sons. There have been women and non-binary folks in wood working for some time too. My favorite is Tabitha Babbitt, a Shaker who invented the circular saw.
I can only share my experience and that is not the same for everyone. At the first meeting in grad school, my advisor asked me and my fellow female sculptors why women and non-binary folks were in sculpture now. The question seems benign, but what that simple questions said to me was, You are an outsider, why are you here? My advisor wasn’t trying to exclude, but the question itself did the work.
When I bought a circular saw from Home Depot, the sales attendant turned to my boyfriend at the time and said, “I know you know how to use this.” Then turned to me and asked, “But do you?” Again, this question was intended to be helpful, but the assumption that I didn’t have experience based on my gender alone and that put me on the outside again.
It happens within the classroom too. Tools have been taken out of my hands and male students insisted they knew what I needed better than myself. Having taught sculpture at the University of Minnesota, I know what I need. These actions are intended to be helpful, but slow down my learning.
There are daily occurrences where my ability is questioned because of my gender. I can’t wear my master’s degree or my apprenticeship credentials pinned to my jacket. I just wish I were given the benefit of the doubt.
I know these men have good intentions and are not trying to keep me out of the woodshop. They want to make sure I am safe. They are truly curious about why women and non-binary folks are moving into woodcraft. I appreciate that they want to have a conversation, but I want to the conversation to be about our shared love for woodcraft rather than “what is a woman doing here” (literally this was shouted at me in a lumber yard once)
HOW TO BE AN ALLY FOR WOMEN AND TRANS FOLKS
Women and non-binary folks have various levels of experience with wood. When they ask a question, give them the answer they are looking for without additional information.
Women and non-binary folks need space to learn. Women and non-binary folks tend to be watched by male students when they are working. I think the intention is so that the man can step in if she needs help. But actually, we need to do things ourselves in order to learn. We will ask you for help if we need it.