Hilary Peach opens California exhibition celebrating tradeswomen and their craft

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, June 27 2017

Gabriolan Hilary Peach (poet, welder, blacksmith and performance artist) gave a performance and taught a workshop as part of the opening of Rivet: An Exhibition on Women in the Trades at the Harold J. Miossi Art Gallery, in San Luis Obispo, California.

The exhibition opened this past Thursday, June 22.

According to the exhibition’s site, it will feature tradeswomen from all over the world and from all manner of industries - welders, electricians, blacksmiths, ironworkers, firefighters and carpenters. 

Whether the work in this exhibition is a product of their trade or a complement to it, this show is designed to be a celebration of the skill and craftsmanship of tradeswomen’s work; to honour their work and legacy and to facilitate critical dialogue on gender inequality in the workforce.

According to the organizers, it is the first time an exhibition of this kind on women in trade has been produced.

Peach, one of the founders of the Poetry Gabriola Society (PGS), was invited by the gallery curator Emma Saperstein to take part in the exhibition.

The introduction to Saperstein came from Kate Braid (who has worked for over 15 years as both poet and carpenter).

Peach said Saperstein asked if I would “submit work for a large visual art show she was curating of women artists who work in trades from across North America.”

Her performance will be a reading from her collection of poems about working as a boilermaker in the US. 

“As well as the performance they are screening my film, Pennsylvania, for the duration of the show (five weeks), and exhibiting two sculptures from the blacksmith shop as well.”

At Rivet, her workshop will involve asking the participants to find out, “What is it you really do?

“It is about finding a moment from your work life that you remember, or [that] resonates, that you can tell a story [about]. We’re going to work backward to create that story.

“The idea is that it is hard to explain to people back home what we do when we work in a hard trade - when you work in a so-called non-traditional, or heavy construction job.”

Peach said that through her years as a welder, “I never identify as a woman in trades - I never have - I just ended up in that job by happenstance. 

“I can say in the last 15 years, there has been a dramatic increase of women working in the trades. 

“What I think is more interesting is artists working in trades. There are so many people who are musicians, and painters, and sculptures, who pick up trades as their day jobs - there is an interesting subculture of artists who work in trades.”

Peach added though, that since in her typical work situation, “I’m usually in a room full of men and maybe one other woman. It’s going to be a lot of fun going to a conference and giant art show that is all women artists who work in trades. That will be really fun.”

Peach, as Gabriolans will remember, was also one of the founders of the Gabriola Poetry Festival, and she has been part of the PGS bringing performance artists and poets to Gabriola for many years.

“For 30 years, I’ve been showcasing people. This is the first time I’ve been showcased in this way. I’ve never been that interested in promoting myself.”

Judy Kujundzic is another Canadian participating in the exhibition. One of her four paintings includes a portrait of Peach, based on a photo (seen left, courtesy Dave Alton) taken of Peach on a job site in Grande Prairie Alberta. The piece is entitled Remove Lug.