Book review: Joinery, Joists and Gender
Joinery, Joists and Gender: A History of Woodworking for the 21st Century by Deirdre Visser is the first publication of its kind to survey the long and rich histories of women and gender non-conforming persons who work in wood.
Written for craft practitioners, design students, and readers interested in the intersections of gender and labor history—with 200 full-colour images, both historical and contemporary—this book provides an accessible and insightful entry into the histories, practices, and lived experiences of women and nonbinary makers in woodworking.
In the first half the author presents a woodworking history primarily in Europe and the United States that highlights the practical and philosophical issues that have marked women’s participation in the field. Research focuses on a diverse range of practitioners from Lady Yun to Adina White.
This is followed by sixteen in-depth profiles of contemporary woodworkers, all of whom identify fine woodworking as their principal vocation. Through studio visits, interviews, and photographs of space and process, the book uncovers the varied practices and contributions these diverse artisans make to the understanding of wood as a medium to engage spatial, material, aesthetic, and even existential challenges.
British women carpenters near front, 1917, Bain News. (Author's collection).
Beautifully illustrated profiles include Wendy Maruyama, one of the first women to earn an MFA in woodworking in the US; Sarah Marriage, founder of Baltimore’s A Workshop of Our Own, a woodshop and educational space specifically for women and gender non-conforming makers; Yuri Kobayashi, whose sublime work blurs boundaries between the worlds of art and craft, sculpture, and furniture; and Folayemi Wilson, whose work draws equally on African American history and Afrofuturism to explore and illuminate the ways that furniture and wood traditions shape social relations.
‘I love this book,' writes US woodworker and author Nancy Hiller who is also one of the book’s profiled makers. In her Instagram post she continues: ‘The historical review of women in woodworking is fascinating, including consideration of women picking up where men left off in wartime and a wonderful discussion of the role played by the D. I.Y. movement in drawing women in. Earlier sections of the history include lots of information gleaned from research by Suzanne Ellison at Lost Art Press, a wonderful tribute to Ellison herself and to the Lost Art Press blog for publishing it; really, this component gave me a whole new appreciation for both. The international dimension is also noteworthy, though the book is overwhelmingly grounded in North America.
‘I can’t imagine having to choose which makers to feature in such a project and am honestly baffled and gobsmacked to have found myself included. It’s a real honour. The diversity of featured makers is great. This is by no means a review, but it’s certainly an appreciation and a strong recommendation.’
Joinery, Joists and Gender: A History of Woodworking for the 21st Century
Author: Deirdre Visser
Paperback and E-Book editions
A web search on the title will bring up several online booksellers.