Toolmaker by day, artist by night: BTD's Jessica Woods creates trio of sailboat designs for '150 Sails Up'

Editor's note: As part of Detroit Lakes' 150th anniversary festivities, the community has organized a public art project known as '150 Sails Up in DL." All 150 sailboat sculptures, large and small, are scheduled to be on display at a special Regatta Party set for Friday, April 30, at Kent Freeman Arena in Detroit Lakes. The Detroit Lakes Tribune is featuring some of the artists who were invited to create sailboat designs for the project. First up: BTD toolmaker and metal artist Jessica Woods.

Detroit Lakes artist Jessica Woods puts some finishing touches on a slice of pepperoni that decorates the "150 Sails Up in DL" sailboat sculpture that she is creating for Papa Murphy's Pizza in Detroit Lakes. Woods, who is employed as a toolmaker at BTD Manufacturing in Detroit Lakes, has created three sailboat sculptures for Detroit Lakes' sesquicentennial public art project; the other two, for the City of Detroit Lakes and BTD, can be seen in the background. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)

Ever since she was a little girl, Jessica Woods has been fascinated by metal sculptures — which is a big part of the reason that the Detroit Lakes artist was tapped to be featured in Detroit Lakes' "150 Sails Up" public art project for this year's sesquicentennial celebration.

"I've been into art pretty much my whole life — I've been drawing since I was a little kid," says the Detroit Lakes artist. "I became fascinated by metal sculptures when I was in the fourth grade."
Though art was her passion, Woods says, her status as a single mom (son Ethan Jensen is now grown and living in Moorhead) meant that she had to find a more practical way to support the two of them.

"I went to college for art, but I also needed a job," says Woods, who also served a stint in the U.S. Army after graduating from high school in her native Illinois. "I decided to switch (majors) and go into welding.

"Both (welding and sculpting) involve working with metal," she explained, so it seemed a natural fit.

About 12 years ago, Woods moved to Detroit Lakes to take a job at BTD Manufacturing, where she has been employed ever since — though she has transitioned from welding to being a toolmaker.


"I was a welder for seven years, and then I went to tool and die school," she said, adding that BTD paid the tuition cost so she could further her education. She has been a toolmaker at BTD for the past five years.

"Toolmakers are the people that make the stamping dyes and welding fixtures that we use," Woods explained. The experience she has gained from first welding and now toolmaking has greatly improved her metalworking skills, she added.

When she heard about the 150 Sails Up in DL project — and BTD's role in manufacturing the metal sailboats that form the "blank canvas" for the artists' creations — she decided to throw her hat in the ring, submitting several design concepts.

Three of them were accepted: Woods is in the process of finishing up three of the 4-feet-tall sculptures, for not just BTD, but also the city of Detroit Lakes and Papa Murphy's. Each design was selected by one of the sponsoring businesses, and is meant to represent the sponsor.

For instance, the Papa Murphy's sailboat will be fashioned to look like a slice of pizza, while the city's sailboat will be more abstract, depicting the sun coming up over the lake and some birds flying along the shoreline.

Detroit Lakes artist Jessica Woods with two of the 4-feet-tall sailboat sculptures she has created for the upcoming "150 Sails Up in DL" public art project. These sailboats are being sponsored by the City of Detroit Lakes and BTD Manufacturing (which is also where Woods works). She is also creating a third sculpture for Papa Murphy's Pizza. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)

To showcase her welding talents,, Woods will be making the birds for the city's sailboat out of sets of silverware that were donated to the cause., while the BTD sculpture will showcase some different metal working techniques she has learned on the job.


She has been hard at work completing the three sculptures since late December, and says that all of them should be finished no later than Monday, April 19, which is when the sesquicentennial committee will begin working on setting up Freeman Arena for the public unveiling.

"I can't wait to see all the different designs," Woods said, adding that her son, boyfriend and parents will be on hand for the April 30 Regatta Party, which is where all 150 of the "Sails Up" sculptures will be displayed for public viewing — the only time that all of them will be set up in the same location.

If you go

What: Sailboat Regatta Party for '150 Sails Up in DL'

When: Friday, April 30, 4-7 p.m.

Where: Kent Freeman Arena, 1310 Rossman Ave., Detroit Lakes

Tickets: $5 for adults, free for children and students

Info: w , or

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