8 QUESTIONS FOR
In Marin / Q&A
Some call Diana Coopersmith a modern-day Rosie the Riveter. But this 49-year-old Novato
resident with 25 years of steelwork experience under her leather belt is also a member of
Ironworkers Local Union 377, runs the custom metal fabrication company
DC Metalwork, and teaches in youth programs at three Bay Area schools.
Coopersmith is one of only four women to have done ironwork on the
Golden Gate Bridge. In short, she’s more than a throwback to a World War II image —
she’s the living, breathing, hammering, sparks-a-flying real deal. BY KIER HOLMES
1 Who first taught you to weld? In 1992 while attending the San Francisco Art Institute, I met
local artist Mark Pauline and his group called Survival
Research Laboratories. This group of artists came
together as experts in their fields to build radio-controlled robots. Mark taught me basic metalworking
skills and how to use the tools in his shop. I was hooked
immediately. After working with SRL, I was hired by
the Ironworkers union, where at that time we had 10
women compared to 3,000 men in our Local 377.
2 Why ironwork? Working with metal is some- thing that is very different than with any other
kind of building material. There is an uncompromising strength and integrity in the material and in the
people of this trade. Also, working with metal is very
grounding and soothing for me. When I’m under a
welding hood, watching sparks fly, it’s almost like sitting in front of a campfire.
3 What did you do on the Golden Gate Bridge? The ironworkers have many responsibilities on the
bridge. They don’t just maintain and fix the bridge, they
do everything from putting up all the painters’ scaffolding to talking jumpers off the railing who are thinking
about jumping. Working on the bridge was one of the
most life-changing experiences of my life. Every day
was filled with breathtaking views but also challenges
both mentally and physically; it was like walking on
clouds with butterflies in my stomach.
4 Scariest moment on a job? I’ve had a few but I would say working on the retrofit project for San
Francisco City Hall in the 75-foot-high dome. It was
my first union job and I was still getting comfortable
in very high places on scaffolding.
5 What is it about teaching kids to weld that excites you? Watching kids cut and weld metal
and immerse themselves in an industrial
creative experience is amazing. It takes
time for some to overcome the fear
of working with sparks, smoke
and heat. And some kids need
to overcome a lot more: for
example, I taught autistic
kids who had sensory
issues and needed to overcome the heavy leather
jacket, wearing welding
hoods that leave them in the
dark sometimes, but mostly the
loud noises from metal banging. After
these amazing kids overcame these fears
they were so excited they didn’t want to
leave the class.
6 A Bay Area building that you want to work on? Salesforce in San Francisco.
Working on the tallest building in S.F. would
be very exciting.
7 Is it difficult being a woman in a male- dominated industry? I know that more
women are getting into this work now than ever
before. I think in the past women were not comfortable putting themselves in a position where
they would be treated badly and not taken seriously. Yes, it is extremely physically challenging
but nothing a woman can’t handle. You do need very
thick skin and to be willing to work harder than all of
your male co-workers to be respected and considered part of the team or someone they can rely on to
get the job done right.
8 Favorite Marin place for inspiration? Spirit Rock. I love to go with my family and solo.
It’s so peaceful. m