marty pottenger
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Oral Interview (September 27, 1994) Real Media | MP3 Transcript (pdf)
profile of pottenger
Marty Pottenger is one of the women profiled in The Heretics, a documentary film about a feminist art collective that emerged iduring the 1970s. The film's website includes a fine summary of Pottenger's artistic achievements.

Audio excerpts from City Water Tunnel #3

As a United Tradeswomen activist Pottenger made survival-skills training a priority. In her view, technical skills alone would not help a woman navigate a sometimes-hostile workplace.

Marty Pottenger grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She graduated from Northwestern University in 1973 with a degree in performance studies. After college she gravitated toward working-class jobs, including driving a taxi and driving a school bus.

In 1972 she entered construction as mason's apprentice in Tampa, Florida, and a year later left that job to become a carpenter's apprentice. She received on-the-job training there and also when she moved to New York to work for a very small construction company. Despite her lack of formal training, she spent twenty-two years in construction, twenty of them as a carpenter and contractor.

As one of the first women in a construction union, she became a trades activist and member of United Tradeswomen (UT).

During the 1970s three elemental forces in Pottenger's life converged: her lifelong interest in the performing arts, her feminist consciousness, and her trade. In 1975 she co-founded the groundbreaking magazine Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics.

In the mid-1970s she created a series of improvisational performances that explored the world of construction workers, political issues, and life stories. During the next two decades Pottenger worked in construction, taught classes at Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW). Most NEW students were poor and unemployed women, many of whom had never even used a hammer. Pottenger taught shop, tools, safety, and material identification. She also trained her students in peer counseling, helping them build the emotional skills needed to survive on the job.

During these years Pottenger increasingly identified herself as an artist. Her working-class identity shapes much of her work. In 1996 she won an Obie Theater award for City Water Tunnel #3, a solo performance piece that explores the development of New York City's $5 billion water-tunnel project and the stories of tunnel builders. Since then she has written works that explore the complexities of war (A Just War); the aftermath of 9/11 (home land security) and the impact of money on the lives of people of varied backgrounds (Abundance). Pottenger currently is director of the Arts & Equity Initiative of Portland, Maine, and executive director of Terra Moto Inc., a nonprofit arts organization.

In her oral history Pottenger discusses her political activism, her role as advocate for women, and her development as an artist. She describes her early years as a carpenter, her strategies for coping with an unfriendly workplace, and the progress that tradeswomen have made since the 1970s.

AboutThe SistersThe TradesResources Credits
Copyright 2012
Jane LaTour/Talking History
Portrait of Pottenger by Gary Schoichet
  pottenger profile