Hello folks! It’s Nia here with an exciting announcement. WE ARE CHANGING OUR NAME! But before we get to that, I’d like to spend some time on the why and how of our renaming.
Women’s Woodshop was born in the aftermath of the 2016 election. On the day that the website went live, 45 was sworn into office and the Women’s March was about to make history. It’s estimated that somewhere between 3 and 5.5 million folks marched in different cities across the United States. Women’s Woodshop started here in Minneapolis with a birch bark weaving class taught by the legendary Birch Bark Beth. Our grand opening went viral and the space was packed shoulder to shoulder despite having very few tools. The shop slowly filled up with tools and students. We experimented with many models while always centering on putting tools into the hands of women and non-binary makers. We had a residency program, a very short lived artist talk series (Thank you Mara), holiday sales, our entrepreneur program offering space to others wanting to workshop their workshop (donation based), and we even skateboarded after hours. But Women’s Woodshop would not exist without our founder, Jess Hirsch, a name and face that is sure to be familiar if you’ve hung out much at the shop.
Jess is an artist and a woodworker and at time of the shop’s conception she’d spent the last fifteen years of her woodworking career navigating spaces that were mostly male. Sometimes she’d have tools taken out of her hands by other students in a class and was definitely on the receiving end of harassment at big box stores and lumber yards.
Women’s Woodshop was created as a space in which folks didn't have to contort or conform or make themselves smaller or bigger to fit into. It was created as a space in which we could learn and exist with a sense of belonging. I think the name Women’s Woodshop is emblematic of the time in which the shop was born. Women’s Woodshop was an act of resistance. The name was almost oxymoronic. Women and woodshop were not words we often saw side-by-side.
Despite the name, the shop has never been and was never meant to be exclusively for women. Over the last couple years the majority of our classes have been intended for women and non-binary folks. We’ve had all gender classes too. The shop is a space for folks who have historically existed on the margins of woodworking spaces due the identities that they hold and for folks that have never felt welcomed into a woodshop despite their identity.
This name change has been a long time coming. We are aware that the word Women in our name has in some ways detracted from our mission. Not all of our community feels that they belong to that word, or that word belongs to them. We started brainstorming on the name change about a year ago, a task that proved more difficult than I initially anticipated. We were searching not only for a name that speaks for us, but a name that speaks to us. The process forced us to assess who we are and what we are here for.
In late February, right before the world got different, we settled on a name—Fireweed Community Woodshop.
Fireweed is a wildflower native to Minnesota. Throughout central and northern Minnesota you are sure to find it in bloom in the summer. Once you know it, you know it. You’ll see it running along roadsides or on the outskirts of wooden areas or sprawling across grasslands— bright pinkish, purple flowers growing up the stem of the plant. Fireweed gets its name from its status as a pioneer species. After a wildfire it is one of the first things to grow. A single plant can produce over 80,000 seeds in a year and its seeds are fluffy and can ride far and wide with the wind. Fireweed begins the process of nurturing depleted soil back to health, starting the chain of ecological regeneration.
We settled on the name Fireweed and then a pandemic happened. Facing rent payments and the reality of not being able to hold classes for the foreseeable future, we decided to leave our physical shop space on Standish Avenue. I think anyone who’d ever spent time in that space (and especially anyone who's ever made it to a busy open shop) knows that although it had it’s charm, we’d grown out of our starter spot. There were some tears, but instead of resisting change, we let it happen. Leaving the shop space never meant leaving behind the mission. We pivoted with the pandemic. We went virtual with the classes that we could and canceled and refunded the ones that we couldn't. We took this rent-free downtime as time for future planning. Our transition board voted on restructuring from an LLC (which I’ve often jokingly called our not-profit model) to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
On May 25th, George Floyd was murdered by a member of the Minneapolis Police Department. This tragedy brought the racial injustice and trauma that has long existed in our city and around our country to the forefront. After taking time to process, we as a group made a commitment to reappropriating and sharing resources that this work gives us access to. We’ve written a racial equity committee into our bylaws to ensure BIPOC liberation as a core value within our organization. This core value is also intimately intertwined with how we proceed as a nonprofit. Organizing ourselves as a 501(c)(3) is a beneficial legal structure to exist within, but we recognize the flaws within the nonprofit model as it’s typically understood. Fireweed Community Woodshop is guided by the principle of mutual aid. I often look to the words of the quaker abolitionist poet John Greenleaf Whittier in understanding how mutual aid works— I lift you, and you lift me, and we’ll both ascend together. As we continue to grow, this principle will guide our practice. We are committed to transparency, an open and welcoming exchange of resources and ideas, and self-determination of our organization based on the needs and desires of our community.
Women’s Woodshop is what we were and Fireweed Community Woodshop is what we are now, but this becoming is a process. Over the next few months we will be transitioning our website and social media accounts to reflect this name change but also the organizational shifts that we’ve been working on behind the scenes.
Over the last ten months, the imagery of fireweed has loomed clear in my mind. I’ve found the fireweed a grounding symbol in this time of uncertainty and reconstruction. After a fire, after all the heat energy and destruction and breakdown of a burn, fireweed grows. Fireweed is a symbol of new life, it represents a new way of being. This is some symbolism I’d like to see manifested in Fireweed Community Woodshop for many years to come.