Gail Grycel, cabinetmaker

When I attended high school, shop classes were not offered to girls. Sure, I could have fought the uphill battle against school officials, but I was consumed with performing music and preparing for a career as a professional oboist. In 1979, I received my Bachelors in Music Performance on oboe and then went on to study with the English Horn player in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. And then it happened: Reality collided with my heart and I knew that I would be miserable if I continued on that path! Rather than spend a lot of time in a practice room, I wanted to explore other creative outlets.

I have come to believe that the right things happen at the right time for the right reasons. And so it was, in 1981 while in my “reality” crisis, I was in a bookstore and chanced upon a book on women carpenters. “What? How could this be?” So, I bought it and read it—a compilation of personal stories about learning and building. And I thought, “What must it feel like to build one’s own home?”

Then in 1984, despite taking any playing gig I could, I still needed to enhance my income from teaching private music lessons, so I applied for a job in the town I had just moved to—a “paid apprenticeship” part-time position at a local cabinet shop. The two men who owned it were willing to teach, and over the ten years and eventual full- time position I had with them, they held the roles of employers, mentors, friends, family and colleagues. My journey as a custom cabinetmaker has shown me that not only can women do this work, we can bring our own brand of creative process to it. I offer creative problem solving and design through attentive listening, a dedication to integrity, and ongoing attention to details. My work has ranged from kitchens and built-in cabinetry, to Shaker- inspired furniture, and odd pieces that my clients cannot find in the marketplace.

In 1994, a friend urged me to think about teaching woodworking as well as music. She felt that women would want to learn about woodworking from another woman. So, I started offering classes through adult education programs. In 1999, I started to offer them in my woodshop here at the straw bale house in Vermont that I began building in 1996. Since then, I’ve expanded my teaching to include girls’ programs; charter -school, mobile-woodworking classes; and individual and group home-school instruction. And as all things come round full circle, I now know, through my perseverance, what it feels like to build one’s own home.