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Meet Dana Pettem

Jorge Chávez
Jun. 2, 2016
933 views

Have you ever met a tree hunter? Dana Pettem has lived in Bucerias for the past few years, and, with the help of a good friend and a sturdy four-wheeler, spends a lot of time driving around the region in search of dead trees in order to repurpose them into spectacular, one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture.

 

We found out about Dana quite by chance, while walking along Lázaro Cárdenas St. in Bucerias. There we came across Soñé, a tiny but beautiful art gallery where a massive coffee table made from a huge tree slice caught our attention. Intrigued, we went in and found out that the gallery is a shared project among Dana and two other women: visual artist Osiria Nova and jeweler Katie “KT” Kirkpatrick. “We are three strong, beautiful women working together,” Dana chuckled.

Love at first sight! This is the beautiful coffee table that caught our attention as we were walking by.

Love at first sight! This is the beautiful coffee table that caught our attention as we were walking by.

Dana first arrived from Ontario some six years ago. Like many other expats, she began spending time in Vallarta seasonally, but quickly discovered Bucerias, north of the city, where she now lives permanently. Back in Canada, she had found herself in a transitional period of her life, having studied nutrition but wishing to follow her artistic pursuits, instead. She had developed an interest in wood, but never acted on it until she came here. “I had had enough with the cold and looking for somewhere beautiful. As soon as I found this place I knew I had to come here.”

Upon close inspection one can appreciate Dana’s intricate stonework embedded in the tree core.

Upon close inspection one can appreciate Dana’s intricate stonework embedded in the tree core.

 

Stone slices are transformed into colorful doorknobs.

Stone slices are transformed into colorful doorknobs.

The calling to pursue her current work took place when she first came across large tree slices at local woodworking shops. “I remembered being home some 12 years ago, and I had this thing in my head where I wanted to find slices of trees to make tables with them. I had already been working with gemstones, so when I came here and saw these cuts of wood, the idea of combining them together came to me.” She sold her first piece eight years ago and has been producing and selling new pieces on a steady basis for the past five.

How does one go about hunting for, and cutting down trees? Some trees die of natural causes and fall to the ground, while others remain standing. Regardless, whenever a tree dies and needs to be removed from someone’s premises, a series of permits need to be processed, including official certification by a biologist that the tree is, indeed, dead. This is where most people call the local lumberyard to have the tree removed. This is where Dana jumps into action.

The trees are always cut into smaller pieces on site—smaller being a misnomer, given the massiveness of some of Dana’s creations—and then moved elsewhere. “It’s a quite a process,” she explains. “It happens really quickly and the guys just want to get it cut. So you have to stay super visual as you try to imagine the final shapes and possibilities before they cut. The whole thing gets better with experience.”

As business began to increase, Dana had imagined shipping her creations back to Canada. But a chance meeting with fellow artists KT and Nova resulted in them opening Soñé together less than a year ago, where each of them contribute with their own craft to create a space that is beautiful to shop at, and displayed in such a way in which one can truly imagine any of their pieces at home. “We love the energy of the shop,” she glows. A few pieces by other handpicked artists from the region are also available for purchase.

The artists’ creation blend together beautifully in their small but beautifully appointed art gallery.

The artists’ creation blend together beautifully in their small but beautifully appointed art gallery.

Intrigued by the wood transformation process, we asked for a tour of her workshop, at a lumberyard in the rural outskirts surrounding Bucerias. Seeing random pieces of wood stacked all over, we could truly appreciate the vision and imagination an artist like Dana must have to transform and repurpose a beautiful piece of wood into a beautiful work of art.

Clockwise from top left: Stacked pieces of wood await their transformation. A punching bag helps reduce stress in the process! • This is where the magic takes place. • A few small pieces, almost ready for delivery. • The artist at work.

Clockwise from top left: Stacked pieces of wood await their transformation. A punching bag helps reduce stress in the process! • This is where the magic takes place. • A few small pieces, almost ready for delivery. • The artist at work.

Soñé is located at Lázaro Cárdenas 60, in Bucerias. Learn more about the shop and the artists by visiting their website, www.sonenayarit.com.

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