What’s it like to be a woman in a “man’s” profession?

I’ve known Kelsie Gray for most of the time I’ve lived in Paducah. I’ve known her through a few transitions in her profession, first as a college writing instructor, then painting houses for a living after that gig disappeared, and then suddenly realizing that instead of seeing house interiors she’d painted posted on her social media page I was seeing a burgeoning window restoration business. It was sort of like watching a butterfly transform before my eyes. 

Kelsie Gray, Window Restoration, watercolor on paper

I looked up and wondered how all of that happened.

I watched her make over a lot of historic windows, and saw her go to workshops to hone her craft. She made a crazy trip to New York City right during Covid to work on a restoration project there. She accidentally cut herself with all those sharp tools routinely, wore a lot of bandaids on her fingers, groused about comments she got at Home Depot from contractors as she stood in line to buy materials, and celebrated her victories as she got better at her job.  All the while transforming decaying ugly windows that looked like they were ready for the junk heap into beautiful pristine pieces of history worthy of saving.

When I started this project I put together a list of professions I thought would be illustrative of some powerful things that women participated in. Window restoration didn’t automatically pop into my head, but Kelsie did. Because I couldn’t take my eyes off what she was doing and accomplishing. Every day there was something new on her feed about her latest job and some of the other things in her life. She’s single, owns her own business, is passionate about what she does, holds herself to high standards, and is as funny as heck. She also has a soft spot for animals which endeared her to me as well.

Using the heat gun

So I knew I had to include her.

Kelsie’s workshop is a short walk from my house in a nondescript storefront that has gone through several iterations, the latest before her endeavor being a hotdog stand and lunchette. You can’t see what’s she’s up to from the huge plate glass windows in the front because the mini blinds are always pulled all the way down. Inside is a place that brought back my childhood in my dad’s carpentry workshop down in our basement. Boards of various sizes, widths, and kinds lined the back wall while benches loaded with accouterments for her work hugged the sides of the room. On a pegboard above the workbenches hung saws, clamps, and miter boxes. A blackboard announced her business name, “Kiss My Sash” with the month’s work stats listed below. There was serious consideration going on behind the artistry. The place smelled of wood and glue and growth.

Kelsie’s business “Kiss My Stash”

While I took pictures and she worked on a window destined to return to its former home, we talked about what restoring windows was like from a woman’s perspective. Kelsie being young, single, pretty (there’s that word), and fit makes her an easy target for comments from others who work in the trades. Some are surprised to see someone like her at a worksite deep in the weeds, so to speak, removing old windows and working on restorations. Her opinion isn’t always heard or welcome unless it comes by way of a male ally. Whistles and unbidden comments are common. 

I guess they can’t see her work, that beauty of her craft, before them.

I had such a great time interviewing Kelsie and seeing her work firsthand. I loved getting a peek into her world. As far as I’m concerned she’s a rising star and someone I’m not only happy to have included in my project but a woman I’m proud of for all her strength, perseverance, and the beauty she creates.

A piece of history

You’re So Pretty!

If you’re not a woman you haven’t experienced it. The unwritten beauty code. It entails more intricacies and detail than the Magna Carta but is known by women throughout the world by the time they reach puberty. The need to smile, to be nice, to be thin, young, sexy. In short, to be pretty. Whatever else we might become in our life, that last requirement, to be pretty, sits atop everything else. If you don’t believe it, try being of the female persuasion.

Julie Zickefoose, naturalist, artist, writer

I finally got tired of this ridiculous bar that we women must meet after seeing one too many “You’re so pretty” comments on Facebook of women posting pictures of praise-worthy achievements. Being pretty has nothing to do with earning your doctorate or technical rock climbing.

Being an artist, my brain switched to its creative side to find out what good trouble I might get into that could address this inequity. While going off on a tirade with David about how offensive and belittling this need for women to be pretty beyond all else, I had a flash of inspiration. Fifty portraits of 50 women doing something they loved or were passionate about. I needed to find those women and paint them, show them in action, tell their stories. Whoever they were, whatever they looked like, young or old, regardless of race (especially), they needed to be seen for what they have done or what they do. Because that is the bar that all humans should be measured against, whether they are men or women.

Amy Baker RN, APRN, Oncology Nurse Practitioner

I am well into my third portrait of my series of women that I’m painting for my project, “You’re So Pretty.” Somehow it’s escaped my thoughts to blog about this until this morning when a calendar notice sounded on my phone for me to publish a blog post. Evidently at some point in the year I’d scheduled that task for myself, committing to posting blog entries at least quarterly. Dave ventured that what with all my painting, photographing, and interviewing women I surely had lots to focus on. 

Kelsie Gray, window restoration extraordinaire

Oh, yeah. All that! I guess I do have a lot of progress to talk about.

The project logistics are still working themselves out as I proceed. I’ve sent out some grant applications, been awarded one from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, received a nice  write up in The Paducah Sun, and I’ve posted a bit on FaceBook. Yet there’s a story in the making as this project moves along, and I want to make sure I’m documenting it, getting those details down. So far it’s been both fun and amazing. And, wow, are there some really incredible women out there!!

Marcella Cruz, Jenny Salas, and Chiva Lira
Dancers, Drummers, Performers from Mexico,

To date I have received permission from 10 women to be included in the project. Most are local and all are dynamic people. Covid has slowed me down from getting together with everyone because I want us all to feel safe together without masks, and some of the portraits may be in interior spaces with more than just my subject. So it’s a little complicated. But I have photographed half of those women and completed two portraits and am well on my way to finishing the third. Not a bad start nor way to end the year.

Kelsie Gray, in progress