WESTMINSTER WEST >> For 23 years, Gail Grycel has been teaching women woodworking skills.
"It's not that I am anti-male," she says when asked why she has chosen to run women-only classes at her studio, Twin Birch Woodworking, in Westminster West. "It's that there is something else that goes on with women having to work by themselves and face their issues when men aren't there to say, 'Oh, let me help you.' It's not that I don't like men; I do teach other places where men are involved, but there is something special about women having a safe environment by which to explore their fears, or those messages that, you know, we get from society sometimes."
Grycel started her life as a classical musician. In her mid-20s she came across a book about women carpenters. Her first thought was, "Who knew this could happen, that women could do this kind of stuff?" The stories contained in the book inspired her but sat for a few years, just a tiny spark of an idea in the back of her mind.
It wasn't until she moved to a small town in central Massachusetts that the spark was reignited. She came across an ad in a weekly paper looking for help at a cabinet shop. Figuring that she was already a starving artist, she didn't have much to lose, so she applied. To her delight, they hired her. Her leap of faith turned into what was essentially a 10-year paid apprenticeship with two men, who not only taught her the skills she needed but also how to run a business.
Gail tapped into her musical background, namely her experience teaching music to others, and, on the suggestion of a friend, decided to start teaching other women how to use various tools and create with wood. Through teaching she has watched women as they realize their abilities. She has watched their emotional excitement and struggle. She creates a space where they can come learn, and be safe to dream big, leaving behind their inclinations to start by building something tiny. Teaching women, Gail says, "is just the best thing I do."
Women are not expected to build and work with tools and wood. Gail helps change those perceptions by teaching women that they are completely capable. She gives them the power of language, to be able to go to a lumber yard or home improvement store with the knowledge and ability to talk to the employees and know what they want and need.
"It changes how the world looks at them."
Even if the women she teaches never go on to create another piece, Gail knows that by taking her class, she has empowered them to have more confidence. She knows that they will carry that with them forever. She loves having her students know that more and more women are working in the trades and are being recognized and accepted as valuable additions to job sites. She also loves seeing students as they pass their knowledge and confidence onto their daughters, continuing the empowerment through generations.
"It is not a feminist fight kind of thing, it's more just, if I do what I do, and do it well, it speaks for itself. Women can do it and look, it just happened. And that. That changes the world."
Grycel is offering spring classes starting on April 6 or 7. She is offering a beginning woodworking for women class which she has created for those who have limited or no experience with tools or working with wood. Basic machines such as the table saw, jointer, planer, drill press and miter saw will be covered as well as some hand tools, design and safety. In this eight-week class students will design and create a small project. The class will be held in Westminster West at her studio, Twin Birch Woodworking. On Tuesdays, she will have open studio sessions for those with some experience. All classes are limited to four participants each.
To sign up for classes or to learn more about Twin Birch Woodworking, visit www.twinbirchwoodworking.com.
Michelle Stephens is a regular contributor to the Reformer, including her twice-a-month column, Juicebox Confession.