A few months ago, Freeman Furnishing’s Katie Freeman came to us with a project that made us go gaga: a hand-crafted Dovetail Workwear chair, made of the finest iron and wood. This month, she presented her beautiful creation and sat down (pun intended) with us to talk about her pathway to a career as a wood artist and how she’s helping other women go against the grain.
How did you get into being a wood artist?
I would say I’ve always had a creative side since I was a child. My favorite toys were Legos, no matter how hard my mom tried to convince me that Barbies were the way to go. I’d take the boxes, put the Barbie aside and then build something with the box.
My mom informed me that you can’t make money as an artist, so I went another route and went into engineering in college. Eventually, life kinda took over, but I always wanted to create. My great-great-grandfather was a woodworker. We still have furniture that he built. So it always called to me.
When we lived in Southern California, I was looking for a hobby. I started taking night classes in a furniture design program there. I was not able to complete it because my mom had a massive stroke, so we needed to move back to Iowa. But it was enough to give me confidence. All I really needed was the confidence to be able to just pick up a tool and figure out how to use it and just go for it.
Wht pushed you to begin Freeman Furnishings?
In the fall of 2016, I was having a pre-midlife crisis. I was consulting, which allowed me flexibility with my kids and I was really good at it, but it wasn’t my passion. I wasn’t creating, and I really needed an outlet to do that. So I said, that’s it: January 2017, I’m starting a company. I’m just gonna do it. So I did it.
Do you find that there are challenges as a female in your trade and art or not as much?
Larger furniture is still dominated by men, so it can be difficult. I have switched from saying I’m a woodworker to ‘I’m a wood artist,’ because I got really tired of everyone who said, “Oh, my grandpa does that in his garage.” Not that I want to discount grandpa, but they probably don’t really do what I’m doing. I would tell someone I make furniture and they’d say, “So you buy old furniture and you refinish it.” Nope. I take a tree and I make it into something.
This comes up even just going into the hardware store, having people constantly coming up asking, “Is there somebody at home who can help you work with those tools?” or “Do you need help?” No, I don’t.
Have you actually been asked that?
What was your response?
“No, I know what I’m doing.”
For the longest time, I would walk into one store with specialty tools and they would totally ignore me. I’d have to intentionally seek somebody out. Male customers would come in and they’d have salespeople on them right away. All it really took was handing someone my business card and saying, “No, I make stuff and use terminology that you know.”
Why do you do what you do?
I want to help women have the confidence to create whatever it is that they want to create. I’ll have so many people come up to me and be like, “I love your work, but I can’t afford it,” or, “I really want this. Could you build it for me? But I don’t know if I can pay you.” My offer is always for them to buy the materials and I’ll teach them how to use the tools to do it themselves.
Let’s talk about what you’re wearing when you’re working, and where you find pain points.
Pre-Dovetail Workwear, it was basically whatever old pair of jeans I had because they needed to be something that I could get glue, stain, resin, and sawdust on and holes in and I didn’t care. With that, I constantly needed to pull up my pants because they would always fall down. I videotape everything I do and would have to edit out all the times I was sitting there pulling up my pants. They’d also wear quickly or I’d get a big tears in them.
Are there anything other exciting projects or interesting tidbits that you would like people to know?
I just finally finished a really big project: a resin and maple table! Now I’m in prep mode for my first pop-up at the West Elm in Des Moines in August, so I have a lot of work to do between now and then!