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Woodworker Aleksandra Zee Transforms Scraps Into Intricate Sculptures

Nature has always been a key element in artist Aleksandra Zee’s life. The Laguna Beach native spent her childhood oceanside, of course (it shows in her permanently sun-kissed mane), not just surfing and swimming, but also drawing and painting.

“When I was a teenager, I realized that if I didn’t have a career in art, I was gonna die,” says the Mission resident, who constructs stunning works from new and reclaimed wood, fitting the pieces into ever-changing, Native American–inspired geometric patterns, in her Mid-Market basement workshop. Zee’s former day job as a visual artist for Anthropologie, where she designed and built window displays, was her entrée into the world of woodworking. (While at Anthro, Zee met her studiomate Katie Gong, whom she credits with teaching her the basics—from A to Zee, so to speak—about woodcraft.) “I like the idea of creating something temporary,” she says. “It’s there and then suddenly it isn’t. Fleeting beauty contains a moment of history.”

Zee, who will open a solo exhibition at Rare Device in August, has amassed a Rolodex full of Bay Area contractors who give her a ring when they want to offload wooden laths, which eventually become the building blocks of her architectural puzzles. After cutting, trimming, and recoloring the timber, Zee uses it to form herringbone and chevron inlays in tabletops and headboards, and also to create stand-alone art installations—see her work at the Monk’s Kettle and at the new Intermix in Palo Alto.

As pieces of salvage art, histories are inherent in each of Zee’s creations; this heritage quality balances the modern aesthetic. For an artist with a natural affinity for impermanence, her work seems to be firmly rooted in the past. As one satisfied client stated upon picking up a custom-designed headboard, “This thing will probably live longer than I will.” 

This article was published in 7x7's July/August 2014 issue. Click here to subscribe.