The Modern Craftswoman
Alexa Allen is an artist, a designer, a maker and a mother. Though not necessarily in that order. It’s more of a constant mash up of all of them, all at once, every minute of the day.
Her story is familiar in the world of design. She started one place, took a few turns, took a few more turns, and today straddles a beautiful line between working for a renowned creative house (i.e., superstar and jeweler to the stars Todd Reed), and launching her latest venture crafting small leather goods and wood objects.
Allen doesn’t turn towards the age-old cliches of “work hard,” “do what you love,” and “follow your dream,” when describing her journey. However, there is no doubt that this woman has put her heart and soul and blood, sweat and tears into creating a thriving business, that right now, after 20 years digging in, is on the cusp of something big.
A conversation with Boulder designer and maker Alexa Allen
Give us the 15 second version of how you landed where you are today
I’m originally from Boulder, and after living in California for many years, moved back to Colorado in 2010 to start a line of eco-modern children’s furniture. While my love for furniture and woodworking remained, I got the creative itch to branch out and learn another craft. I found a leather class by a very talented local leather artisan, and was hooked immediately. I quickly discovered that the combination of wood and leather goods was a natural fit and this realization has shaped my career path ever since.
"While my love for furniture and woodworking remained, I got the creative itch to branch out and learn another craft... I quickly discovered that the combination of wood and leather goods was a natural fit."
What aspect of your upbringing/childhood affected your decision to go into woodworking?
During my childhood, my father was a contractor so I spent a lot of time on construction sites. My father taught me about the tools of his trade—how to hold them correctly, how to use them, and how to take care of them. I spent endless hours trying to master the art of hammering a nail all the way in with one hit. I never did master that one. However, I’m sure I was one of the only girls in third grade who could wield a hammer, and I took great pride in it. Looking back, my career as a craftswoman makes complete sense though, truth be told, as a girl, I never envisioned that I would earn a living doing so.
"Looking back, my career as a craftswoman makes complete sense."
Describe the moment you decided to become a craftswoman
I earned a bachelor of arts degree in art history from Scripps College in Claremont, California. Scripps is an esteemed women’s college, and in addition to providing me with a great foundation in the arts, it also gave me the strength and confidence to succeed as an independent woman.
After my time at Scripps ended, I realized that interpreting and assessing the art of others was not my ultimate purpose in life. I wanted to create art of my own. As I contemplated which direction to take, it soon became clear that I needed to practice an art form that was physical and hands on. Thus, I enrolled in the furniture design department at The California College for the Arts (CCA). For me, the act of making/building/creating must engage both my mind and body—the physical act of making is a crucial component of my art.
"Scripps is an esteemed women’s college... it also gave me the strength and confidence to succeed as an independent woman."
Furniture-making has now evolved into leatherwork and I am excited to see where it takes me next. The more I learn, the more passionate I become and the more my creativity grows. This thirst for new skills is the driving force in my work. By continuing to learn and expand my skills, I can confidently call myself a designer, an artist and a craftswoman.
"By continuing to learn and expand my skills, I can confidently call myself a designer, an artist and a craftswoman."
What is the one piece of advice you would give to young women who are just getting started?
I was fresh out of art school at the California College for the Arts when I was hired at a custom cabinet shop in Oakland. The furniture department at CCA had a fairly large number of women in the program and we had an amazing camaraderie. It never occurred to me that this would not be the case in a “real life” scenario.
I was hired at the woodshop in the middle of a high-end Japanese-inspired project, which required a lot of skilled, on-site work. I was called on to route a 12-inch circle that needed to precisely fit a metal fixture, which had just been laid. I was stressed—one small slip of the router or one mistake in sizing, and I would have set the project back by weeks.
I made a jig and practiced in the shop, until it was perfect. The day I walked on site, there were five drywall guys all staring at me. I walked in and set up my router and my jig. By the time I had finished setting up the entire construction crew was watching my every move. I was so nervous! But, I knew what I was doing and I confident in my abilities. Needless to say I executed the task perfectly and from that day on, I was known as “the router queen.”
So my advice to women out there who are just getting started? Know your shit and walk in there like you own the place. △
This story was originally published by TARRA: Women Who Create