VWA Blog

Beyond Ordinary: Contemporary Women Makers

Introduction to the exhibition by curators Ruth Thompson and Dale Dryen:

Understanding that the field of timber design and make has historically been dominated by men, this curated exhibition showcases the work of women, exploring an approach to fine woodworking embedded in questions of technique, utility, and the built environment. The exhibition is intended to show the breadth of the current field of woodworking, and how these makers are responding to the world around them. The exhibition presents a range of objects; one-off works to batch products, representing a range of technical approaches and scales. 

While this is primarily an exhibition for women in wood the exhibition also includes complementary selected works in other media such as bronze, ceramic mosaic and porcelain. This is an opportunity to converge and contribute to an all- women collective initiative. In the words of one of the makers: 

“This is a dialogue – makers coming together under a common thread of identity and what it is to be both woman and woodworker.”  

Cat Cook

We hope to give women makers from around Australia an opportunity to showcase their work in a unique setting. An all-women exhibition of this type has not been presented here for over 30 years. It represents an opportunity to bring increased exposure and from that increase success to the participating artists. 

To encourage more women to participate in an area mostly defined by male gender stereotyping, it is important for women to support other women; to educate, represent and be role models, to show opportunities exist and that anything is possible. This is an opportunity for young girls to see that they can do anything they wish to in life, without the boundaries of gender stereotypes. 

Women are under-represented in many aspects of our society, particularly at the highest echelons of artistic practice, this is an opportunity to make some redress to this situation. 

We hope you enjoy the exhibition, 

Dale Dryen and Ruth Thompson

We reached out to some of the makers featured in this exhibition and they have kindly provided us with extra photos and information about their work. Thank you to the following women who contributed to this article:

  1. Cat Cook
  2. Dale Dryen
  3. Isabel Avendano Hazbun
  4. Lana Kagan
  5. Linda Nathan
  6. Phoebe Everill
  7. Ruth Thompson
  8. Vivienne Wong

Cat Cook

Cat Cook presents Onslow at Beyond Ordinary

I intended for the work to provoke a narrative:

A story.
A place.
A time.
A relationship.
An adventure.

I visited the coastal town, Onslow for the first time in 2019. This was also my first time in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

I came by road and left via the sky. The perspectives of both and that coastal town struck me. I was captivated by the landscape, the colours of the sky both morning and night. The smell of salt in the air and the golden of the sun.

Every day revealed something new to me. This was the beginning of my piece ‘Onslow’; a nod to both place and person that brought me there. The intent: to create a piece that revealed something new wherever you found yourself and provoke a seduction to seek out further.

Being accepted into the 6 week mentorship with Michael Fortune and Kelly Parker at Centre for Fine Woodworking along side Lou Fuller, David Haig and seven incredible individuals enabled ‘Onlsow’ to set down roots and grow.

Coming back to Perth just as COVID kicked off saw ‘Onlsow’ crated for the year. But upon the opportunity of ‘Beyond Ordinary’, 2021 saw Cat and ‘Onslow’ engage in a narrated dance of concept and technical skill. Thus the final chapter concluded; a sculptural piece of furniture woven together by the people and places that contributed to what it is today.

A big thank you to my family, Rob, Heather and Mike and to David, Grace, Jono and Lana at The Perth Wood School for their ongoing support and humour (during the trickier builds). 

An ending I could not have better imagined sharing for the conclusion of ‘Onslow’.

See more of Cat’s work on Instagram @tackooc__.

Featured Makers ⇧

Dale Dryen

Dale Dryen presents Way off Broadway at Beyond Ordinary

During the 1980s I lived and worked in Italy and although at that time I was not involved in design, I was influenced by the inherent sense of style in the most everyday items of life there.

This has translated into an exploration of line and gesture in my work.  I seek a clarity of form and attempt to express a quietness in my pieces.  My regard for materials has led to the use of mainly Australian or Australian grown timbers and, without compromising structure or design, I am conscious of the amount of wood used in each work.

My formal woodwork training included a year at the Sturt School for Wood in 1990, followed by two in the Furniture Workshop at the Canberra School of Art, ANU in 1994-5.

Through participating in this exhibition, I look forward to meeting other women makers. However, I do not wish to be seen as a woman woodworker, but to be acknowledged simply as a woodworker. I hope Beyond Ordinary gives younger women the opportunity to envisage such a career path and in the future not to be seen as extra-ordinary just because they are women in this field.

My work is influenced by Post Modernism (from my time in Italy in the 1980s) and specifically by Piet Mondrian’s paintings. Way Off Broadway is a wall hung cabinet and is my third in a series referencing Mondrian’s work, with a a twist on his use of prime colours and rectilinear forms. 

Featured Makers ⇧

Isabel Avendano Hazbun

Isabel Avendano Hazbun presents Truss at Beyond Ordinary
Isabel Hazbun

With a background in textiles, Isabel studied at the Sturt School for Wood in 2013. Since then she has been producing works in both timber and textiles.

Throughout her career as a furniture maker she has been exploring the concept of functional sculpture where a functional object can also be a work of art.

More recently her textile and timber practices have both been evolving into platforms to discuss issues of sustainability, consumerism and gender identity.

This work is inspired by the shape and structure of truss bridges. Wrapped in organza this “shelf” holds a box inside, to access the box you must tear the fabric. Like all things out of the ordinary it requires thought, courage, effort and sometimes it can get messy.

See more of Isabel’s work here.

Featured Makers ⇧

Lana Kagan

Lana Kagan presents the Cupric Room Divider at Beyond Ordinary

Lana Kagan is an emerging furniture designer and maker based in Boorloo/Perth.

With a background in land management and having recently relocated to the West Coast, she is taking the opportunity to view urban and natural landscapes with fresh and inquisitive eyes, which is providing new inspiration for small-run objects and commissions.

Lana aims for a refined and balanced aesthetic and clean lines, conveying a joyful lightness alongside strength and stability. More recently she began exploring the use of textiles and metals for visual interest and to consider the roles of gender and social capital in craft and the making of things.

Lana graduated from the Sturt School for Wood in 2020 and was recently selected as a Finalist in the Australian Wood Review’s Maker of the Year 2021. She currently teaches at the Perth School for Wood.

Image credits

Portraits: Daniel Mulheran
Piece: Alastair Boell, Lana Kagan

As both a functional and decorative object, the Cupric Room Divider addresses my generation’s necessarily transient lifestyle. It is an easily moved object, designed to fit and augment a range of small spaces.

The piece is made from European Beech painted with an almost black milk paint and finished with hard wax oil. The panels are an extremely fine woven wire copper mesh which have been individually torched to oxidise the surface, bringing about the variation in colour. 

When I was a student at the Sturt School of Wood, I came across the weaving class. Instantly, I was fascinated by the extraordinary standard of work being produced and the welcoming environment in which it took place. I came to understand that weaving is more than a craft; it’s a crucial activity for developing social capital and maintaining communities. From then on I began exploring the use of woven materials as part of my practice. 

Considering the range and depth of my fellow exhibitors in Beyond Ordinary I am struck by a sense of awe and appreciation – for the people in my industry, for my peers, mentors and idols, and for the material we’re all so fortunate to be working with. More than just simply resources, wood, metal and textiles are tangible, tactile expressions of our connection to the earth, serving as constant reminders of the preciousness of natural resources. More than just functional materials, they are meaningful expressions of our cultures, traditions and ways of fashioning every day life.

See more of Lana’s work here.

Featured Makers ⇧

Linda Nathan

Linda Nathan presents spoons and leaf platters at Beyond Ordinary

Linda Nathan is print and online editor of Australian Wood Review magazine.

“Carving wood is a paradoxical kind of thing – the more you take away, the more you might be left with. Each of the pieces I’ve made for Beyond Ordinary is the product of time spent pleasurably in a process of gradual refinement. Without time pressure, decisions and discoveries can be slowly made.

I’ve had a fairly long career as a magazine editor and there are parallels – taking away words that aren’t needed and shaping text, crafting words and wood.

Carving spoons and bowls has been an entrée into the world of wood sculpting where my interest lies in flowing lines, and curves with tactile and textural highlights.

The wood I have used has a personal significance. The maple silkwood was given to me by a friend and work associate, sadly now deceased. The spoons were carved from the corner of a red cedar bole also given to me by a dear friend.

It intrigues me how some shapes and forms keep emerging in the things we make – and from a mix of influences and a personal aesthetic, the maker’s identity appears. Can we tell if objects are woman-made or man-made? I’m not so sure, but it’s an honour to have work shown within this collection.”

Image credits

Spoons, Australian red cedar. Photo: Linda Nathan
Leaf platters 1 and 2, maple silkwood, 530 x 230 x 45mm; Wau beech, 530 x 200 x 20mm. Photo: Rebecca Nathan

See more of Linda’s work here.

Featured Makers ⇧

Phoebe Everill

Phoebe Everill presents a Tasmanian Blackwood desk and chair at Beyond Ordinary

I am a professional designer/maker based in central Victoria, my style is influenced by a passion for Japanese and Shaker design, the blend of which gives a clean, crisp aesthetic.

For me the quality of the making should shine thru a piece that is beautiful and functional in equal parts.

This particular work features incredibly rare raindrop blackwood sourced in Tasmania by Chris Searle, and amazing wood gathered in Tasmania.  I wanted with this piece to pay respect to the timber and make a very individual and sculptural piece.

Teaching and mentoring are a passion for me, I have a well established furniture making school at Drummond in Central Victoria.

I love working on exhibition pieces as they test and stretch you as a designer, maker to develop something new and work to a brief, to expand your skills and evolve.

My journey continues.

See more of Phoebe’s work on here website here and Instagram here.

Featured Makers ⇧

Ruth Thompson

Ruth Thompson presents Chair for Quiet Contemplation at Beyond Ordinary

I am influenced by the clean lines of the Shaker movement and the avant-garde of the Bauhaus movement.  Although these design periods are separated by a century, they both epitomise the use of minimalist design while seeking to create works that are visually interesting.  

As a designer/maker I aim to create works that are visually complex, using simple elements.  

The process of creating a bespoke piece for a client, from consultation through to completion of a piece is profoundly satisfying. I enjoy the problem solving involved in taking a piece from an idea to reality. The engineering challenges presented in the manufacturing process to construct a functional, high quality, enduring work change with every new piece created. 

As a furniture maker, I am often the recipient of surprised looks, as if the whole notion that a woman would choose to create in timber, is a foreign concept. I believe the exhibition will show that women woodworkers are not an anomaly, just for the large part, unseen. The scope the number of women woodworkers and the diversity of their offerings will go a long way to changing the perception that it is unusual for women to work in timber or for that matter any materials usually associated with men.

Making objects is in our DNA. Combined with culture and knowledge, the need to make defines the human condition.

Chair for quiet contemplation

900 * 600*600
NZ Beech, Tasmanian Myrtle veneer, Hand embroidered Suzani fabric

See more of Ruth Thompson’s work here.

Featured Makers ⇧

Vivienne Wong

Vivienne Wong along with Ella Havelka, Lorraine Tye and Linda Elliott present Galing Giilang/Water Stories at Beyond Ordinary

Vivienne established her workshop at the beginning of 2020 under the roof of Worco, a non profit co-operative. Previously a soloist dancer with The Australian Ballet for 14 years, in woodcraft Vivienne found a medium that was still creative, tactile, visual and physical.

Vivienne uses a combination of modern and traditional woodworking techniques, carefully crafting pieces that focus on striking a fine balance between form, elegant design and functionality.

Ella Havelka – Wiradjuri woman, Dancer/Choreographer, Artist and Social change leader.

Ella danced for both the Australian Ballet and Bangarra Dance Theatre. She has a Master’s in Social Change Leadership and is passionate about creating new pathways for First Nations storytelling through dance and weaving. 

Lorraine Tye – Wiradjuri Elder and Artist. 

Lorraine creates through basketry techniques and other fibre practices. Lorraine has exhibited widely and is involved in sharing her love of making with people from around Australia and internationally. 

Linda Elliott – Maker.

Linda sees herself as a maker and puzzle solver who brings people together to provide opportunities and empowerment through creative engagements. As a maker her special interest is in textiles and fibre-based activities, which she continually explores and develops. 

Galing Giilang//Water Stories is a collaborative piece that brings together modern furniture design, the use of Australian traditional materials and the cultural stories of the Wiradjuri people from Wagga Wagga. 

Being asked to participate in an exhibition that celebrates female designers, Vivienne took inspiration from the role women played and continue to play in the ancestral culture of the First Nations People. 

Galing Giilang was inspired and informed by Vivienne’s conversations with Wiradjuri women Ella Halvelka, Wiradjuri Elder Lorraine Tye and Linda Elliott, women who are all part of the Hands On Weavers group in Wagga Wagga. 

From their very first discussions, the idea of creating a piece of furniture that brought people together resonated with them all. This led to the recounting of a true love story between two clans that used to reside on either side of the Murrumbidgee river, the story of Pomingalarna and Gobbagombalin. 

Inspired by this story Vivienne designed a long bench where several people could sit together. 

The bench designed has two planks that slant towards the centre, reflective of the Murrumbidgee river banks, and at either ends of the bench the lomandra grass (Dirramaay) has been decoratively wrapped so that people sit between it. On the lower rail, fresh water mussel shells (Bindu-Gaany) have been inlaid in the joinery, evocative of the shady junctions of the waterways where fresh water mussels are found. For the ancestors of the Wiradjuri people finding bindu-gaany at these junctions of the river were significant as they were signs of a healthy river. 

The lomandra grass (woven into a rope using traditional methods by Linda Elliott and Lorraine Tye) and mussel shells came from the land around Wagga Wagga. The timber used for the bench was salvaged Blackwood from the Otways.

See more of Vivienne’s work on her website here and Instagram here.

Featured Makers ⇧

See the virtual gallery here.

Thank you to Ruth Thompson and Dale Dryen for putting this feature together.

Beyond Ordinary is on until Sunday April 3 at the Sturt Gallery & Studios in Mittagong NSW.

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Victorian Woodworkers Association (VWA)
Postal Address

42 Courtney St,
North Melbourne, VIC 3051
03 5776 2178

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