To the east of the Strathcona community of Vancouver, in an industrial part of town, lives the wood shop Marni Bowman shares with 7 dudes. It's late September, and the change of seasons is upon us. As I arrive at the shop, the sun is already setting so we head straight to the roof to catch the sunset. From up here you can see the city to the east, with the North Shore setting the backdrop for the century-old Rogers Sugar Refinery towering across the street. Marni has the place to herself this evening, so we head back inside to talk shop.
"My interest in woodworking all happened very quickly. It was never a thing that I grew up wanting to do. I’ve always been pretty hands-on with stuff, but it never crossed my mind until I went in for surgery. After waking up from being under, I started thinking about my different options, and amongst others, woodworking was one of them. So when I recovered, I was just sort of searching the internet and I saw Ariele Alasko. She began her career making these really beautiful chevron patterned headboards and I was really inspired by her aesthetic and just the fact that she was a young girl, like myself, who was just doing it on her own. And I thought, if she could do it, I could do it too. So I just signed up for a course at the community centre. It was a really quick course, just the basics which got me familiarized with the table saw and all the essential tools.
Stepping foot into that shop was my first experience working with wood. It had never crossed my mind before that, so it was really bizarre how quickly it came to be and how much I fell in love with it. I took that course and I felt really lucky because our particular instructor allowed us to create our own designs, opposed to telling us to make a bench, which every other class was doing. I made this hanging planter, and as far as designs go, the aesthetic was pretty cool, but put together it was such a piece! I gave it to my mom, and of course she loved it and overall I got a really good response from it. After that course, I rented a space and started working on my own.
I really wanted to hone my skills and actually be able to legitimately make furniture, so I moved to Nelson for nine months to take a fine woodworking course. Of the 30 of us in the class, about half were girls which was really nice. I think the instructors were kind of old-school and still learning how to deal with women in trades, but it was a great and valuable experience. You come out learning the whole design process from start to finish. You do your own drafting, create your own designs and you just make it all come to fruition by the year end. I learned a lot, and was taught how to do something properly instead of quickly.
Believing in your talent can be really difficult sometimes when you can’t actually make it happen with your hands. The beauty and the challenge of wood working is it’s such a slow learning process, so no matter what, there’s always more to learn which I really love. Everything you construct is going to be a challenge and test your patience. So every time you actually make it happen, you gain a little bit more self confidence. It’s just taking the time to figure out how, but knowing you can do it. So really, the biggest challenge I have to face is myself. My own self doubt and figuring out the direction I want to go. That takes a really long time and it always changes. Your aesthetic changes over time as well too, so it’s hard to figure out what really resonates with you and stick with it. But I feel like I’m getting there.
I love furniture. I don’t know why, but I really love furniture. Often just getting the idea out of my head and into the real world is what drives me to create. Regardless of whether I have a client or not, if it’s something that I believe should be made, I’ll make it. Just because I think it’s nice. And even if it doesn’t get sold, I’ll keep it and then it’ll be something that’s with me forever.
My favourite thing I’ve made is probably my tool box. It was my first real project in school. You couldn’t use machines, so it’s all hand cut dove tails, and of course being my first project, I wanted it to be perfect so it took me absolutely forever to finish. It’s the first thing that I was really happy with how it turned out. I’m never giving it away, I’m happy to have it banged up and put to use, it’s made to wear well. It’s staying with me forever and hopefully someday will be passed on to someone in my family."
Interviewed and photographed by Tianna Grey on 10.01.2015