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Jess Hirsch Opens the Women's Woodshop

Regis Center for Art MFA ('13) Creates a Warm and Supportive Woodworking Space for Artists and Artisans
August 16, 2017

Jess Hirsch - Women's Woodshop 1

Jess Hirsch - Women's Woodshop 1
image courtesy of Studio Zu

The initial inspiration for the Women’s Woodshop came when Jess Hirsch was working on a sculpture project at a shelter for survivors of domestic abuse. The children at the shelter were immediately curious about what she was doing, and before long they were helping out. One adolescent girl in particular

showed up on the first day and was very shy about tools. But I watched her confidence grow slowly over time, and as I would continue to come back to the shelter, the staff would say, "Veda's been waiting for you, it brightens her day... This is always a challenging transition, and this is the most important thing to her right now." That was definitely the moment in my practice where I realized that woodworking can empower women to make greater changes in their everyday life.

It took a few years for the plan and the resources to come together, but, inspired by current events, Hirsch launched her website on inauguration day, in January of 2017.

Jess Hirsch - Women's Woodshop
image courtesy of Studio Zu

"It's been a dream of mine, catapulted by the election, really wanting to hold space for positive energy, and create, not an idealized future, but a hopeful future, despite our political climate."

She was surprised at the immediate, overwhelmingly positive public response to the space – her grand opening went viral online, and the Women’s Woodshop facebook page soon had nearly a thousand likes.

It's a really wonderful mix of people. There's good variety of ages, backgrounds, interests. One thing that was surprising was how little I had to depend on my friends and family to support the space, and that actually, the city is really desiring a space like this.

So, what does it mean to have a feminine approach to woodworking, and to a shared woodshop? Hirsch clarifies that she was inspired by a quote from Sarah Marriage, founder of A Workshop of Our Own, stating that the space is not focused on the absence of men (there are some co-ed classes), but on the presence of women and non-binary arists, teachers, craftspersons and amateurs. Hirsch says,

It's really all about supporting makers in the learning experience. It's about giving people space and time to learn at their own pace, not interjecting immediately when someone is struggling. They're able to either come to me and ask for help, or take the time to figure it out. Other situations I've experienced with woodshops, I've been corrected immediately and unable to learn at my own pace. 

She has worked with all kinds of different materials, in a range of media, over the course of her career as an artist, so I asked her, what is it about wood in particular that holds her attention? She responded,

I think it's the warmth of the material, the unpredictability, it's movement with the seasons - it contains life in a way that other materials I’ve worked with haven't. Trees have all of these different emotional healing capabilities through energy medicine. I think working with wood has beneficial effects on me, so I keep coming back to it. Wood's the one.