Interview With a Handywoman

August 2007 • Patrick Quinn talks with Jeannine Patané about what it means to be a nomadic handywoman

Q: I looked at your Web site. Quite interesting. You have a lot of things going on.
J: Yes, I do.
Q: Where are you now?
J: I’m in San Diego.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
J: Well, I just wrapped up a multi-structural playhouse for my clients and delivered a 112’ Palmer Johnson sportfisher to Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Now I’m working on where to go from here.
Q: You’re leaving San Diego?
J: Yes. It’s a gorgeous place for weather. Always sunny and great temperature, but I’ve got other options for work and travel that I need to pursue.
Q: You travel quite a bit. How do you find work? Isn’t that difficult?
J: It depends on the approach. Most placement agencies and trade publications have proved ineffective for me, because they’re usually looking for conventional applicants to fit these positions, and there’s at least one other person you have to go through if not several. I do my best by making my own trail and finding my own work. Sometimes the trail gets thick or rough, but if you know how to cut trail and you’re diligent, you can make a path to some amazing places and people for work.
Q: Do you ever see yourself settling down?
J: Life is too short and interesting to settle. I tried it once and drove myself stir crazy. I mean, sure I’d like to eventually find a place I can hang a luxurious bathrobe and unpack toiletries into my medicine cabinet, and even have an office space, but until then I’m nomadic. I haven’t been entitled to arrive yet. There’s a lot more work I must do.
Q: What does a handywoman do, exactly?
J: What do you think a handywoman does?
Q: A do-it-yourselfer, good at different projects around the home, Jill-of-all-trades…
J: Yes, true, but stop before you get too stereotypical for me.
Q: Well, you tell me, how would you describe a handywoman?
J: We practice our philosophy through our craft. Handiwork covers a full spectrum of trades, and we learn to understand the relationship in all things. It’s like, putting together pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
Q: So you see it on a deeper level. How does that differ from a stereotypical version?
J: Handy people make a connection through transferable skills and knowledge, and then put it into practice. We have to approach the craft intellectually and physically. I don’t believe what we see in marketing is an accurate representation to the real handywoman personalities, because the media image can become too much of a generic recipe. I don’t like to cook, but I do like to experiment. That’s where the transferable skills and knowledge work well for me—for experiments.
Q: Looking at your Web site, you do present a more unconventional image than most handy people. Do you consider your project management or your home management part of what a handywoman does?
J: Yes, it’s the big picture to me. Euthenics and home economics but in more detailed job titles. I’ve been into home economics lately, because I dig the fact that the woman who coined the term was a Ph.D. scientist around the turn of the Twentieth Century. Ellen Henrietta Richards. When you do handiwork, you can’t help but eventually look at Euthenics. In a way we’re the healers and improvers for peoples complete living environment; therefore we need to look at all aspects of that environment and community.
Q: How do you coordinate your own logistics? How do you get around with your tools?
J: I gave up the tools because I realized that it’s beneficial when each client owns their own specific tools to take care of their homes. If they don’t have something that I think they need, I’ll recommend purchasing it. Some equipment we rent or borrow for projects. My own logistics involve all kinds of public transport. I have a one-speed beach cruiser in California. I love it; it’s the first set of white-wall tires I’ve ever owned. Sometimes I use the clients’ vehicles. I try to travel light and I get to where I want to go.
Q: You live with your clients, is that right?
J: Yes. Almost all of them. It works out best like that.
Q: If you could pick your ideal project to work on, where would you be and what would you be doing?
J: Oh man, I’d be on an orbital flight on a space shuttle as their resident artist and handywoman—that would be awesome. Bringing it down to Earth, I’d be estate manager for an entire private tropical island in a remote location, but I keep seeing the desert somewhere in my future, too. I don’t know what that’s about yet.
Q: Any plans to get back to Alaska soon?
J: Alaska is my first home. It touches everyone’s soul who goes there, but I have places to go and things to accomplish Outside. There will have to be something positively important for me to return back up there now. The space will always be in my heart.
Q: You’re going to have to let us know where you go from here.
J: It’s all part of the online adventure. I’ll send you a postcard from my next destination.