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An S.F. Woodworking Artist Takes Her Craft to Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman’s New Reality Show

Nicole Sweeney is a competitive DIYer on Making It.


Nicole Sweeney

(1 of 17)

“My sister makes ceramics just for fun. We are super connected, so she made these bowls for me. I’ll just randomly get a package in the mail from her.”

(2 of 17)

“I want to be a beekeeper, and this is my first jar of honey from my first beekeeping session at my friends’ hive in Potrero. I have bee tattoos, which they made me cover up for the show.”

(3 of 17)

“My friend Lindsay Mullens and I painted this, and I did a wood overlay. This is our second collaboration.”

(4 of 17)

I found this oar floating in the ocean at Stinson Beach. I hiked six miles out with it. I wonder what the story is behind this.”

(5 of 17)

“My husband, Dave, used to be a professional cyclist. He got me into cycling and hand-built me this bike, and I just rode AIDS/LifeCycle from S.F. to L.A.”

(6 of 17)

“I love filling my home with color and patterns, and I’ve collected pillows while traveling over the years.”

(7 of 17)

“I was a display designer at Anthropologie before I quit to pursue woodworking full-time. This was one of the pieces I made there. Each element is die-cut and coated with a different kind of paper, and then they’re strung together. It took over 60 hours.”

(8 of 17)

“This is my grandma’s prayer box. When she was growing up, she would write prayers on little pieces of paper. On one for my brother she wrote, ‘Mason driving’— I guess she was hoping that he would be a safe driver.”

(9 of 17)

“My grandma lost her first child, and this is the only photo I have ever seen of her. She was my dad’s sister, and she died when she was only a couple months old.”

(10 of 17)

“My Sylven boots were handmade in Spain. They are by a woman who used to work at Free People but quit to do this. I feel like we kind of followed the same path, but she does this now.”

(11 of 17)

 “My rings were made by a member of my maker family, Emi Grannis. She and my husband custom-designed them for me, using my work as an inspiration.”

(12 of 17)

“As an artist, if I expect people to buy things that are made by hand, I need to do the same. This is by Rainbow Kimono, an artist I really know and love.”

(13 of 17)

“I bought this silk rug in Morocco, and I bartered my ass off for it. It was also during this trip that Dave decided he wanted to marry me.”

(14 of 17)

“I’ve been making pieces using the same shape for a while, and I love how changing the color combination, placement, or orientation makes you see something completely different.”

(15 of 17)

“My friend Jankzine is a photographer who makes these fashion magazines. We are starting a movement together called Sawdust Is Sexy—the idea is that women are sexiest when they are in their element doing what they love.”

(16 of 17)

“I was on the hunt for a good work chair, and I scored this at the Alameda flea.”

(17 of 17)

For an entire month last year, San Francisco woodworking artist Nicole Sweeney shut herself off from friends and family and sequestered herself in a barn in Los Angeles, where she tirelessly made art and was forced to confront endless questions about her motivation, her vision, and her dreams for the future. But this wasn’t some exclusive artists’ residency or high-minded creative retreat—Sweeney was a contestant on Making It, an NBC reality show hosted by former Parks and Recreation stars Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman.

After being selected by the show’s producers last year, Sweeney, a 32-year-old former dancer who also works as a server at Tacolicious, left behind her husband, her cats, and her sunny Cole Valley apartment (complete with a dining room turned woodshop) and spent 30 days crafting madly alongside seven other contestants from around the country. Despite everything she’d heard about reality TV—the contrived drama, the tawdry hookups, the catfights—this show was all good vibes, she says. “What do you fight about in a crafting show?” Some of the camaraderie was due to the comforting presence of Poehler and Offerman, “who are literally as cool as everyone says they are,” Sweeney notes. But some of it was about the life-altering nature of the experience. “It sounds really cliché, but I came out transformed as a human and artist,” she says. “Someone was always asking, ‘Why are you doing that? What does this mean?’ I had never had to answer those questions before, because no one cared.”

Whatever the results of the show—she’s contractually obligated not to drop any spoilers (Making It premieres on July 31 at 10 p.m.)—Sweeney’s real life has thus far changed very little. Inside the apartment where she’s lived for two years, found objects and personal art projects decorate the walls, and in her modest woodshop she’s working on a new crop of commissions, as well as getting ready for whatever changes reality fame brings her way.

Originally published in the August issue of
San Francisco

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