The Women’s Woodshop lives in an unexpected storefront office of South Minneapolis. The cozy woodshop is a narrow space flooded with sunlight and Victorian ceiling paneling. The machine room is stocked with beautiful lathes, a SawStop table saw, and a few other tools tucked into the corner. It’s a “move the band saw to use the drill press” type of space. In back is the hand tool room, at times set up with an eclectic assortment of benches for furniture making class and other times with an intimate circle of chairs for spoon carving. On the wall are axes, chisels, mallets, Japanese handsaws, and plenty of books. The bathroom features drying birch logs and spare tools and, of course, a poster of Prince.
Founded in 2016 by Minneapolis-based artist Jess Hirsch, the Women’s Woodshop offers a welcoming and supportive space for women and gender-non-conforming makers in an overwhelmingly male-dominated field. Raised in Minnesota, Hirsch studied Fine Art at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, then returned to receive her Masters of Fine Arts in Sculpture from the University of Minnesota. After several years of teaching spoon carving at local galleries and workshop spaces, she decided to create a permanent space for women and non-binary makers to feel welcome and supported in craft education.
Although women have existed in woodworking for centuries throughout tribes and guilds to the “Lumber Jills” of World War II, women still represent a very small percent of this field. Although it is impossible to quantify the number of women currently involved in woodworking, according to a 2016 study by the Department of Labor, women make up less than 3 percent of all carpentry and construction trades workers. By creating a space for those marginalized in woodworking to feel encouraged to learn and grow, the Women’s Woodshop hopes to empower more women with the knowledge and confidence to build a woodworking practice.
Class offerings at the Women’s Woodshop include green woodworking classes such as Bowl Turning 101 and Spoon Carving as well as furniture making classes such as Mortise-and-Tenon Wall Shelf and Build a Shaker Table. Along with fine woodworking, there are practical carpentry courses such as Picture Frames and Women of Color: Power Tools 101. Learn to hang drywall and install trim in Be Your Own Handyperson or build folding sawhorses in Home Tools 101. There are also weaving classes such as Birch Bark Baskets and Ash Splint Pack Basket.
Education at the Women’s Woodshop goes beyond the class as students are empowered to continue learning and to use their new skills to build projects of their own design. During Tuesday night Open Studio Sessions, students can come in and work on their own projects with the guidance of a faculty instructor. There is a sense of community and togetherness at the shop, shown through cheering when a fellow student finishes a project. Many students take multiple classes and develop a sense of ownership of the shop space.
As seen at the packed one-year anniversary party this summer, there is an outpouring of support from the community. The silent auction was well-stocked with donations from neighborhood businesses and local artists were outside selling artwork. Artist Sarah Nassif was screen-printing posters to benefit the scholarship program. Students and educators were brainstorming new class ideas over birthday cake. It is clear that this space is needed and treasured.
The Women’s Woodshop offers nearly a dozen classes every month and has scholarships available based on financial need. Hirsch offers private bowl turning lessons, and the shop hosts guest instructor classes as well. There is also a fledgling Artist Residency program in which Artists get access to the shop and its resources in order to progress their career while participating in the local community. Hirsch views their current location as a “starter home” and expects someday to outgrow the space.
The Women’s Woodshop is now enrolling for fall classes! Upcoming classes include Bowl Turning, Spoon Carving, Power Tools 101 and more.
Editor’s Note: Author Teresa Audet was a summer 2018 artist in residence at the Women’s Woodshop and instructor for classes such as Hand-Cut Dovetails.