The woodworked mosaic magic of California artisan Aleksandra Zee

The woodworked mosaic magic of California artisan Aleksandra Zee

Bay Area Blood — Aleksandra Zee is helping to preserve the culture of the working artist and keeping San Francisco alive with new art. The Bay Area is in her blood. But what is it about the city of big tech and tiny microclimates that makes it such a hot bed of creativity and free thought? In our Bay Area Blood web series, we explore that question, going straight to the beating heart of SF, led by the people who love and know her best.

When you study Aleksandra Zee’s mosaicked reclaimed wood headboards, wall panels, and tabletops, the gritty process is palpable. You can imagine whirring table saws, dust flying, safety goggles, loud hammers, and splinters lodged in calloused hands. What you wouldn’t imagine is the maker herself: pint-sized, delicate, and impossibly gracious. But don’t get the wrong idea. Aleksandra Zee is a tough lady. The twenty-seven-year-old, who was born in the tiny beach town of Dana Point, sharpened her tool-yielding skills as a display artist at Anthropologie. After three years creating large-scale window and store installations, she struck out on her own, tapping into and making a name for herself in San Francisco’s active maker community.

Scrapyard Challenge
I believe in working with a material that inspires you. For me, reclaimed wood has a history and I want to add to that history and give it a new life: rustic, worn, warm, and reminiscent. I love that transformation process. First I choose the lumber I am going to use. Then I separate it into colour palettes. Then I lay out a rough pattern, play around with it a bit, and when it’s perfect I nail it down. After the pattern is created I seal the piece and go to town with a sander. I can sit for hours sanding the wood till it’s so soft you can rub your face on it. It’s my meditation.

Grab Your Tools
Being a woman in my field is amazing! I feel extremely empowered that I can work my way around a woodshop and feel completely comfortable. I love that using power tools and knowing about lumber and how to build things is such a male-dominated world because it gives me a chance to kill it and stand out and show that women can be respected in this field and do just as good of a job. There have been many moments in hardware stores where I’ve almost lost it; people assume that because I am a woman I know nothing. But then I remind myself how much fun it is to prove them wrong. Not gonna lie. It feels pretty badass to own a shop full of power tools.

San Francisco Inspires
The streets of the mission, the colorful murals and constant turnover of pop-up shops with beautiful makers filling each space always inspires me to keep my work present and changing. I also love walking though Golden Gate Park and taking a break form the textures of the city to soak in some green inspiration. I love going to salvage yards and spending hours studying old pieces of wood, old furniture. I also love little shops like the General Store, Gravel and Gold, and restaurants like Outerlands that make me feel at home. As for people, I am constantly inspired by the variety of makers here in SF: from musicians to shoemakers to fellow woodworkers, everyone I come across is full of so much passion for their craft that it’s impossible to not be inspired.

Beyond the Bay
All my patterns and colours are inspired by my travels and adventures – from colours in landscapes, patterns in architecture, and old textiles. The desert is my favourite. I love the dry air, the sunrises and sunsets, the plant life, and the people who live there. There’s so much soul, history, and stories that run deep. Then there’s the ocean. I grew up by the sea. It calms me with how vast and powerful it is. And finally, there’s the forest. I love being in the middle of the redwoods. I feel so small standing in the presence of so many old and wise trees. It humbles me and brings me back to the root of the material I work with on a daily basis.

Community is Key
SF has a beautiful community of makers. We each want to see the other succeed. It’s not about being cutthroat, but about preserving the culture of the working artist and keeping the city alive with new art. I feel so honoured and inspired to live in a city where we’re all reaching towards a common goal together. In the past year alone, I’ve met and been inspired by so many new talented artists that are passionate and running the same race that I am.

Find out more about Aleksandra Zee.

Our Bay Area Blood web series expands on a feature that originally appeared in Huck 44 – The Tommy Guerrero issueOrder a copy in the Huck Shop  or subscribe today to make sure you don’t miss another issue.

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