We have so many talented and skillful people in the neighborhoods surrounding our Tiny
Diner. Last year, a new business opened up on 38th Street and 23rd Avenue called, “The Women’s Woodshop.” It is a very unique place offering woodshop workshops for women and non-binary folks. With the Women’s Woodshed’s 1-year Anniversary and their Silent Auction just around the corner, we wanted to highlight their founder Jess Hirsch and her background and vision for this essential work.
After reading this inspirational sneak peek into the Woodshop, make sure to go to their website and Facebook to check out their classes and attend their 1-Year Anniversary Silent Auction on May 9th, 4-7pm at 2237 E. 38th Street, to check out the space and support woodworking tools for the Woodshed. You can bid on a Tiny Diner gift certificate and T-shirt to support their efforts as well as dine with us!
Thank you for sharing some of your story with us Jess! Best of luck to you with Women’s Woodshed 2018!
Written by Koby Jeschkeit-Hagen, Tiny Diner Farm, Garden and Market Advisor
Where are you from?
Rush City Minnesota, but I have been living in Minneapolis for 7 years by way of Portland Oregon for 7 years previous to that.
How did you learn your skills in woodworking?
I started working with wood in undergrad at Lewis and Clark College with Mike Rathbun. He is a magician with wood sculpture and if you don’t believe me, head to Franconia Sculpture Park and check out his 100′ ring. The material has always connected with my process as an artist. Its organic and you can’t truly control it. It responds to the seasons and moves, plus its visually all around us. I think woodworking is a direct connection to the landscape.
Who inspires you?
My hero is Beth Moen who is a bowl carver in Sweden. She works with the axe and adze to carve her bowls. Martin Puryear is another sculptor that is highly refined in his craft and works with just wood. His work is breathtaking in its perfection. I also love artists that are working with participation and plants like Lucky Dragons out of LA, Nicole Lavelle of the Bay Area (she has an amazing newsletter that she actually mails to you) and Fritz Haeg who is based in LA but is from Minneapolis.
On the local level the craft-obsessed people always give me inspiration. There is Leisl Chatman who’s spoons adorned with kolrosing are incredible. Paul Linden who makes perfect tools in town. Rose Holdorf who is a chair maker and one of the kindest people on the planet. Everyone should keep an eye on her. I love designers like Sara Fowler, Kelly Abeln, and Chelsea Brink all who have taken classes at the woodshop. I could go on forever on this list, don’t get me started on the ceramicists of MSP (Ginny Sims, Erin Smith, Erin Paradis, Claire Odegard…)
Besides woodwork, what other things do you enjoy doing?
I love gardening. I study North American Herbalism and energetic medicine so I love growing the plants that heal the body. I have been obsessing over my bloodroot that is popping up and the wild ginger in my garden. I also have been really excited about skateboarding. I started a 30+beginnerskateclub which is for beginners or people over 30 (in the skate world people call you an “old timer” if you are over 30). Its an all femme group which is nice to shift the dynamic of the skate parks. Most of the times I have been to Third Layer its been 3% women. The dudes are very welcoming though.
What inspired you to start Women’s Woodshop?
There are many reasons why I started Women’s Woodshop. It’s been brewing for 5 years at least, but what solidified it was working at a battered women’s shelter, installing a sculpture, and training a teenage girl how to use power tools. Watching her confidence grow, sense of pride, and ownership over her work pointed my in the direction of hands on training. Its really empowering to learn these skills and teaching women and non-binary craftspeople how to work with wood is incredibly impactful. Not just for them, but for me. I often leave class with fist pumping elation. The students are the best on the planet. Everyone is so grateful and excited about wood.
What workshops are you particularly excited about this year?
I am in the Table Building Class with EB right now and its our first multi-week course. We had our first homework night at the shop and its so cool to see everyone helping each other out and making community. I hope we have more of these multi-week offerings. We are going to have more and more Handy Person Classes. As women and gender non-confroming folks are buying their first homes we want everyone to feel empowered to fix them up on their own. We have a super cool instructor, Erin Melzer, who is finishing up her union carpentry training to teach and are hoping to add more instructors to this field since so many students want these skills.
Given that it is your business’ one year anniversary, what have you learned this past year?
One year flew by. I am really happy I started the shop without a rigid vision. Staying flexible to the student’s needs has been awesome. I come from the fine arts and craft world so my direction leans towards less practical skills, but the students want more home tools classes and I am really excited to have instructors to teach those courses. In terms of entrepreneurial tips, I still don’t have a degree in business, but I am learning to schedule specific times to do those pesky things you won’t do naturally. I am trying to establish a power hour of marketing every friday morning, and always balancing the books at the end of the month. Asking for help is not a bad idea. I have an INCREDIBLE volunteer crew that is helping me plan the birthday party. I couldn’t do it with out y’all (Amie, Leah, Ego, Megan). And I have folks coming to help me set up (Harper, Mad, Stevie, Christine, & Kate!!!). Ask for help, you can’t do everything alone.
How do you hope your business grows? What is happening at the Woodshop if we peeked in on it in 5 years?
I want to turn the shop into a non-profit hopefully in the next year or so. The big dream is to buy a building and have professional studios for working craftspeople to rent and a communal studio for students to come in for more consistent open shop hours. I would love to have 4 lead instructors teaching each month and have more spin off clubs for students to keep making together. We have a cool spoon carving club that meets once a month at the space and we are hoping to start a stool building club and a bowl turning club. The practice will keep the skills fresh and hopefully convert a few students into doing it professionally. Our carpenters have been talking about a panel discussion on how to get into the trades. That would be super cool!