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A conversation with Vicki McCracken

Vicki McCracken, 46, is a partner in Lawrenceville's Wilson & McCracken, a custom millworking shop whose wooden creations match the styles of another era.

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In this book of photos of your company's work, w hat's that elaborate carved frame?
This might have been one of our shining moments. This is the Frick mansion, Clayton. It's in the dining room. We were given photographs. It's a painting frame with high relief carving on it. It's floor to ceiling. That's the Green Man -- he's found in a lot of carvings. A Green Man usually has something to do with nature and a wind flow. I don't do the carving. I do remember I was nine months pregnant when I was working on it. That was a long time ago -- since my daughter is 13.

 

And that's an eagle with American flag crest.

This was [made for] one of those riverboats that go up and down. It's 8-foot wide and 4-foot tall. It's fun to say we have something cruising up and down the Ohio River.

 

Is everything your company does this elaborate and fancy?

Yesterday we sent out 55 paint-grade doors.

 

What's the first piece you did?

That's a replacement newel post and banister set for a house in Regent Square that had had a fire. The lower section of this banister remained. I went to college for administration of justice. I didn't want to do that. I worked for a while building pre-fab walls. Then they stuck me out on a roof in January. I stopped doing that. I came by Jerry's shop in Shadyside, corner of College and Ellsworth. He said he didn't really need anybody but he had this large amount of wood to plane and I could stay there for a few days. I was an apprentice without an official title.

 

How did you start working with wood?

I hate that question. It could be because I'm stubborn and they wouldn't let me take shop [in high school]. It could be because I trained in working with people and I realized I didn't want to. I don't know.

 

Is it unusual to be a woman craftsperson?

The ones that used to be in this city, I'm not sure that any of them are still [here].

 

Is there any difference -- or benefit -- to being a woman in this field?

Women tend to be detail-oriented. It's one of the reasons [partner Jerry Wilson] is up here in design and I'm down there in the shop. He comes up with ideas and I'm the one who says this'll work. He's good at this and I'm good at this and we defer to each other.

 

Did you ever take any woodworking classes at all?

I had one class at a community college.

 

Do you work on your own home?

Not much, no. I don't have the tools at home. I'm used to a 20-inch planer and joiner. If I had to go home and work on rinky-dink stuff, that'd be no fun. When I lived in Mount Washington I'd go home and not want to work on it. You know how the cobbler's children go barefoot?

 

I love that smell of cut wood. Do you ever get enough of that smell?

Yeah -- that's why we wear these respirators. I like it, but ...

 

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