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In the Studio

Artist: Alicia Dietz

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From Blackhawk helicopter test pilot to woodworker.

In 2011, after a decade in the Army, Alicia Dietz had risen to the post of company commander in charge of 150 people. She left at age 34 to pursue a second career in art, eventually earning an master's degree in craft and material studies from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2016. Since then, Dietz, who maintains an 800-square-foot private woodshop, has made private and public commissions for restaurants such as ZZQ BBQ in Scott's Addition and Mellow Mushroom in Midlothian.

Style: How often are you in the studio?

Dietz: Almost every day … I try to have days where I'm not here but I would say most days I'm here in some facet. I am trying to get more regimented about it because that's one of the things that I liked about being in the Army. … In grad school, I fell out of that routine. … In general, [I keep] a pretty routine 9-6 day. I spend a significant amount of time on admin stuff—answering emails, shopping for lumber and supplies, doing design work.

How did you accumulate your tools and equipment?

I started getting smaller tools in 2005-2006 when I was still in the Army, so I trucked them around with me. It was really when I got here that I started getting the bigger equipment. I got a lot from eBay or I got a beautiful drill press from a high school that was redoing their shop. Some are new equipment. It's a combination of a lot of things. Sometimes people are like 'Oh, you have your own shop, that's so great you don't have to pay monthly rent.' And yes, that's true, except that I pay a mortgage and I have a huge upfront tool cost.

What makes your studio unique?

It's the first time that I haven't had to share a studio with anyone. … I can set things up that work for me, which sometimes isn't how you would set it up in a community shop. … After being in a community shop for about five years, I was ready to have my own space. I am much more efficient when I'm by myself — I can stay on-task far more easily. There's definitely pluses and negatives that come with that, you lose that sense of community … [but] I could keep my machine at any setting I wanted and I knew when I came back three days later, it would still be there.

What is an interesting thing in your studio?
The Hammond Glider Trim-o-Saw. It [was used for cutting] woodblocks for typefaces for newspapers and print a long time ago. You can adjust this and cut very, very small pieces safely. What's fun about it is that the measurement is in picas, not in inches or millimeters.

Is there anything in your studio you're inspired by?

License plates from everywhere that I have lived. That one is a European license plate from when I was in Germany and then one from Alaska and Virginia. It's this 'where I've been' and then the rest of the shop is 'where I'm going' … When you're an officer, you spend a lot of time making a plan and then you disseminate that information to everyone and then you start to execute it. As soon as you start moving, something happens to alter that plan. You have to stop, reassess the situation, decide on the next course of action, disseminate that information and then continue forward. … That really translates every day to woodworking.

I have these very detailed drawings of a table or chair design and then as soon as you make a cut—even if it's a 16th or a 32nd off — you're constantly assessing what's happening with the piece and making changes and moving forward.

Dietz's work is currently on view through July 29 in Chicago for the exhibition, "Conflict Exchange." For information, visit aliciadietzstudios.com.

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