Alumna transitions from blackhawks to block planes
Alicia Dietz (M.F.A.’16/A), a former Army pilot, is a woodworker, craftsman and adjunct faculty member in the Department of Craft and Material Studies in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts. If she’s not at her Richmond studio creating functional and concept art, she’s traveling up and down the East Coast doing art projects with military veterans. Follow along with her next week as she takes over the VCU Alumni Instagram account.
What was your time as a pilot like?
I have wanted to fly since I was 6 years old and watched medevac helicopters land on the roof of the hospital that my mom worked at. When I got to high school, I talked to as many pilots as I could and asked them how they learned to fly. The overwhelming majority said they learned in the military so that’s why I joined the Army. I earned my undergrad in advertising and journalism at Ohio University, going through the Army ROTC program while I was there. I graduated in 2001 and was just entering flight school when 9/11 happened. I was in flight school for just over a year before getting assigned to a unit stationed out of Germany that was already deployed to Iraq.
I was in the Army for just over 10 years, flew as a maintenance test pilot and commanded two different companies, one in Alaska and one in Egypt. I took aircraft on flights after repairs to test their airworthiness before releasing them back onto the flight schedule. That feeling when the wheels just lift off the ground is one that never got old for me.
How did you get into woodworking?
My father and grandfather had always done woodworking in their spare time. My dad had a little workshop in our basement and over the course of a decade, built our entertainment stand and coffee and end tables. Then, while in the Army, they had Morale, Welfare and Recreation centers where you could learn how to frame things, throw a pot or build a table. I would go in during my downtime and play in the shop. It was a great way to de-stress and learn something new. I got addicted!
After I got out of the Army, I used my GI Bill to go to a very traditional woodworking school in Vermont for two years, learning dovetails, mortise and tenon and traditional wood construction. I had the amazing opportunity to go to San Diego and do an internship with Wendy Maruyama, who studied at VCU for a bit and who was a real inspiration to me and introduced me to concept in my work. She was the one who encouraged me to go to grad school.
Why did you choose VCU, and what’s your favorite memory of being on campus?
Wendy had many positive things to say about VCU, and even though I was in Vermont, my partner was living and working just south of Richmond. I knew that when school in Vermont was over I was moving back to Richmond. It was extremely convenient that one of the best art schools in the nation was right in my backyard!
My favorite memories would have to both being a TA and now teaching [woodworking at VCU]. To see the spark ignite when a student falls in love with woodworking is truly magical.