New Times San Luis Obispo

Rivet art show explores work of women in the trades

Ryah Cooley Jul 6, 2017 4:00 AM

Upon having a newly minted theater degree pressed into her hand years ago, Hilary Peach realized she was missing one thing: a job.

Instead of turning to wait tables while waiting for her big break, the artist found her way into the world of welding in the 1990s. The seasonal work allowed her to be outside and to focus on her art for a good chunk of the year without worrying about money.

Since the late 1970s when President Jimmy Carter signed an executive order setting goals and timetables for contract work hours staffed by female workers, women have had a discernable presence in the industry. Yet it's a sector still rife with sexism and misogyny. Looking to pay homage to women who work in the trades, while also creating a dialogue around the issues female workers face, Cuesta College's Harold J. Miossi Gallery is currently displaying Rivet: An Exhibition on Women in the Trades through July 29, which includes the works of artists like Peach and others.

While the Canada-based Peach started in the creative world, she now combines her art with work, making sculptural pieces by welding; still her processes for work and art vary.

Photo Courtesy Of Hilary Peach
ROCKY The stone in artist Hilary Peach's sculpture Heart of a Cowboy hails from the Rocky Mountains in Canada and was gifted to Peach by a friend.

"It's really a completely different experience," Peach said. "It's like a different part of my brain is being used."

One of her pieces, Heart of a Cowboy, features a steel tripod with a stone hanging from its center, which hails from the Rocky Mountains in Canada and was gifted to the artist by a friend. Another piece, Soft and Strong, giddily makes use of word play and features a welded toilet paper holder (complete with TP) affixed to a wall with a wrench hanging just below.

Boston mixed-media artist Susan Eisenberg's work is also featured in the show and is inspired by her time working in construction to build structures like hotels and auto plants. Eisenberg was part of the first wave of women in the country to be trained to work a trade under Carter's executive order. According to Eisenberg, the number of women working in the trades currently hovers below 3 percent, a number similar to her early days in the industry.

After interviewing women who worked in the trades for her book, We'll Call You If We Need You, Eisenberg was inspired to create a larger-than-life piece, Stella, to represent those voices. Stella is a three-dimensional figure busy at work in coveralls once worn on the job site by her creator, complete with a diamond hard-hat atop her head. Her face is compiled of magazine clippings of different female workers' faces, taken out of trade magazines.

Photo Courtesy Of Susan Eisenberg
WORKING HARD The multi-media piece Stella came to be after artist Susan Eisenberg interviewed women in the trades about their experiences for her book, We'll Call You If We Need You.

"A lot of these stories were really distressing," Eisenberg said, recounting tales of male workers "accidentally" dropping plywood or tools on their female coworkers. Other women had to deal with inadequate bathrooms on the job site or being lied to about whether a circuit they were working on was live or dead, putting their lives at risk.

While the numbers remain low for women in the trades, their stories are rich and varied. Both Peach and Eisenberg hope advancements like high schools promoting work in the trades to young girls or developers requiring more diverse work forces on their sites will become more of the norm.

"It would make a huge difference," Peach said. Δ

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