by Mark Van Streefkerk
Like all construction trades, carpentry is overwhelmingly male-dominated, literally meaning most of the world has been built “by men for men,” as Melissa Garcia described. With her business La Matriarca Woodworkings, Garica hopes to make a little more of the South End built by women.
Offering carpentry, construction, resin, and custom work, South Park-based La Matriarca has been especially busy this year since more families have been staying in and focusing on home renovations during the pandemic. It’s a challenge Garica welcomes, especially with the support she receives from the community. Through her booming business, as well as future mentorship opportunities in the works, Garcia hopes she can be the visible representation of a queer, POC, Indigenous woman working in the trades that she never saw when she was young.
“I want to start hiring apprentices or girls who don’t know much about this but who want to get their feet wet and see what it’s like, and have an empire of women, just build a community network of women and community members. Not to say I don’t work for men. I do. Men hire us, and we love them,” Garcia laughed, “but we need something that exists for us too, and we don’t have access to this stuff. I think women want it; they want to feel powerful enough to use tools and fix things on their own.”
Garcia is a self-taught carpenter and woodworker, as well as a self-described “local mom” in the South Park community. Right now, La Matriarca’s emphasis is deck construction and refurbishment, installing fences, custom furniture like consoles, tables, and dog houses, as well as custom resin work. Often documenting the process on TikTok, Garcia’s handcrafted resin projects require careful attention to detail, patience, and experimentation.
“It’s an exothermic reaction when you’re working with resin,” Garica explained. “I taught myself. I started with smaller pieces like cutting boards. Now I’m up to 7-foot desks for doctors and round dining tables. You have to make a mold and it could take a month to do a pour and to get a good table to come out. The room’s got to be a certain temperature. Your resin’s got to be a certain temperature. Really it’s trial and error and years of research.”
The challenges and rewards of resin and woodworking, as well as owning her own business, is just right for Garcia, for whom juggling a lot of things at once comes naturally. Being self-employed, however, is something “I never could dream would happen for me.”
Garcia spent most of her life in Chicago. “[It’s] a rough city,” she said. “You’ve gotta have a really strong backbone, and you gotta watch your back.”
Garcia moved to Seattle in 2015 intending to pursue social work. She worked with Habitat for Humanity through AmeriCorps, helping low-income immigrant families build homes in Renton. Through the program she was introduced to construction and basic training in power tools, the only formal education she received in the field. In 2016 she worked at Mary’s Place family shelter and in 2017 became a housing case manager at YouthCare.
Realizing that carpentry was less stressful — and more lucrative — than social work, Garcia founded La Matriarca in 2019 with the help of her partner Anjilee Dodge. This year they were able to hire their first employee Tiffanie Wright.
“[Construction is] really good for my brain honestly,” Garcia said. “It’s very satisfying creating something with your hands and building it. It’s not just like drawing on a piece of paper; it’s a fully functional thing. It feels good. Not a lot of women are in this field. I saw a need for it.” She quickly learned most women who need construction are thrilled to work with a woman contractor. “They’re all these moms who adore us. They just want to work with women, and they want to feel like they’re taken care of and that they can trust their contractor. It’s sort of like a sisterhood,” Garcia explained.
It’s that connection with matriarchy that inspired the name for La Matriarca, which is also an ode to the incredibly resilient women in Garcia’s family. Her grandmother grew up in Coahuiltecan lands in San Juan, Texas. She was kidnapped at 15 and forced to marry, bearing eight children.
Garcia’s mother was one of those children who grew up in an abusive home, but “she escaped. She got out of there. She was the most incredible mother to me, despite her childhood and everything that happened to her,” Garcia said. “I really give a lot of credit to my mom and my sister, my grandma, and the people who got us here. Women go through a lot. They’re the life-givers, the nurturers, the moms. There’s no other creature on earth like moms and like women.”
La Matriarca has plans to work with Young Women Empowered (Y-WE) in the new year, mentoring youth who want to learn about carpentry or entrepreneurship. “It’s really important for girls to see. We’re so used to seeing men do these things all the time, and if girls want to do it, they should be able to do it, and they should see a powerful woman doing it too.”
Check out La Matriarca’s online store here.
Featured Image: A one-of-a-kind, handmade natural wood coffee table by La Matriarca Woodworkings—a queer, POC, Indigenous-woman-owned company based out of Seattle’s South Park neighborhood.