Linda Leon Paul ’75
This profile originally appeared in Bowdoin magazine, Vol. 72, No. 2, Winter 2001
Ever since high school when she built her first bookcase, Linda Leon Paul knew she liked working with her hands. "Shop class wasn't even offered to females back then," she says. "We took sewing and cooking instead. I'm glad that I know how to sew, but I wasn't really all that interested in doing very much of it."
Linda came to Bowdoin on an exchange program from Mt. Holyoke and liked it so well that she transferred to the College. "It was the right place at the right time for me," she remembers. "People just seemed really happy to be there." Linda was especially happy to have the opportunity to play collegiate sports, and she took full advantage of it, practicing with the diving team, competing on the gymnastics club, and playing field hockey and lacrosse. "I felt lucky just to be able to be out there competing," she says. "That's the thread of life, I think-doing things that bring you joy. That's why I started woodworking."
At the end of her senior year at Bowdoin, Linda met with her advisor to discuss career options. Feeling "academically tired," and reluctant to pursue an advanced degree at that time, she asked, "What can I do with a BA in Biology?" After an answer that involved the words "banking" and "insurance," Linda decided she'd be happier working with her hands. So, just after graduation, she found a job with a cabinetmaker and learned the basics of the craft. Her rookie year behind her, she undertook a true apprenticeship with a master woodworker in Chatham, New York. "Everyone has different ways of doing things," she says, "and so the learning never stops. Over the years, I've learned so much from so many different people."
Twelve months in New Zealand garnered Linda further experience and interesting perspectives on woodworking from the opposite side of the globe. Then, back in the States, she met several other women with similar trade interests through a woman's network in Chatham. Out of that group arose an eight-member all-female carpentry company called Octagon. "Carpentry is quite different than woodworking," Linda explains, "but the knowledge I gained in two years at Octagon was invaluable to my woodworking skills."
However, she found that being a mom gave her the most satisfaction, and it wasn't until after an eight-year hiatus devoted entirely to motherhood, and once her children reached school age, that Linda began building custom furniture and cabinets in the basement of her home. "Business was slow at first," she says. "But, now I have a back load of six months' work and I no longer need to advertise." Word of mouth travels quickly when you do high quality work, and referrals from local architects and a healthy economy in recent years have also help contributed to Linda's thriving business. When asked what type of furniture she builds, Linda replies with a chuckle, "Whatever a customer wants me to build." Her creations include everything from highend dining room tables to knotty pine cabinets. She especially enjoys the design phase of her work "and the constant challenge of figuring out the best way to building new pieces." Because nearly all of her pieces are commissioned, she crafts in a wide variety of woods, though she favors cherry for its warmth and workability.
"My children, now teenagers, wonder why I don't get a normal job with a big salary," she smiles. "But I enjoy the freedom of being my own boss, the flexible hours, the constant variety, and the satisfaction of seeing a finished product." Not to mention, she adds proudly, "I also enjoy being the best female cabinetmaker around."