Woodworker and installation artist Aleksandra Zee heads an emergent class of contemporary craft-makers in the modern America West.
Written by Jenn Thornton
Clad in coveralls and work boots, Oakland, Calif.-based woodworker Aleksandra Zee is the picture of American industriousness. But she is very much her own woman (chunky glasses, cool pooch), one with a distinct point of view, a ceremonial sensitivity to craft and a foot in both the physical and digital worlds that renders her a quintessential maker for this moment. Zee’s rich and original works, from wall hangings, tabletops and headboards, to a collection of functional sculptures, combine the beauty of hand-done artisanship with the influential, social media-ready aesthetic that is turning an age-old craft into a new-generation sensation.
Working at the intersection of art and craft, Zee has both a strong eye for style and a talent for wielding an impressive and exhilarating set of power tools—electric saws, nail guns and other sharp implements. As proficient as she is with a power drill, Zee considers herself first and foremost an artist. The name of her book, “The Way of the Woodshop,” reveals her to be a practitioner of soul craft, as well. Zee is deeply intentional, the real deal. She uses meditation in order to be more present with her material—“always redwood,” she says—and a creative process she treats as sacred. She is, in other words, an extension of her art. One senses no separateness at all.
“Spirituality is grounding and integral to my practice,” admits Zee. “It calms my mind, brings me peace and increases my focus.” Equally crucial are her evergreen inspirations—the tones and textures of the high desert, and Native American culture (its spirituality and connection to the land in particular). Her designs reflect these motivations, with geometric motifs and warm, earthy hues of the landscape she loves. Zee fabricates her pieces in a woodshop that is a temple to creativity and craft, and a microcosm of the artist herself.
In some ways Zee is both a creature and creation of the West: professionally and spirituality independent, with a pioneering spirit and the drive to realize her dreams. (She works Instagram like a boss, too.) Zee studied fine art but learned to love working with wood while serving as a display artist for cult-brand Anthropologie. It was a creative laboratory for Zee who, through fashioning abstract wood installations, discovered the beauty of the material. But aching for a shot at solo artistry, she left Anthro to strike out on her own (with roughly 1,000 bucks to fall back on—risk is another thing that runs wild in the West). “I really wanted to create something for myself, and knew I had to try,” notes Zee, who today has clients of different sectors, more commissions than she can count, and north of 125K Instagram followers. She’s at the top of her game, to the point where her presence in a traditionally male-dominated field is blessedly in the rear-view. “I’m glad it’s not a thing, anymore,” says the woman at the heart of the new craft movement. “The fact that it doesn’t need to be said really says everything.” Her work, meanwhile, speaks for itself.
Photographs courtesy of Antrom Kury