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Phoebe In The News

September 2011 - Read Article

Finding the soul in the tree

By Pirjo Raits
© Sooke News Mirror
May 14, 2008

Burls, or burs as the British spell it, are highly sought after and prized by woodworkers, furniture makers, sculptors and artists.

Burls yield highly-figured, difficult-to-work-with wood, but the beauty of the end result becomes infectious.

Phoebe Dunbar grew up close to the water and her father carved toys from found wood along the beach. An avid paddler, Dunbar has spent the last two decades exploring the coast by land and water. On those trips, because her twin sister Mary Gazetas wrote and sketched, Phoebe turned to carving.

“Mary was the writer, and the one who did the sketches in her journals. I could not be a writer — I had to carve! As twins we needed our own identities,” says Dunbar of her start into carving.

She has always appreciated art and the esthetic. The artist’s eye following the curve of an amazing piece of driftwood, the beautiful grain discovered in burls, the organic feel of smoothly sanded shapes.

Dunbar started carving large pieces just a few years ago and the passion of what she loves shows through in the silky, wonderfully eccentric wooden bowls, plates and pieces of furniture fashioned from nature’s oddity — the burl. The most useful burls for woodcarvers are the ancient ones found in the old-growth forests. These open themselves up to reveal treasure — treasure Dunbar unlocks from the deformed wood. These odd tree growths yield flames, tiger strips, swirls, eyes and spots hidden from view until the artist’s tools reveal them to the outside world.

Once her passion had been unlocked, Dunbar went full bore and has had her wood art showcased at the Sooke Fine Arts Show, Island Wood Works on Salt Spring Island, Little Vienna Balery and the Sooke Harbour House. She has a wood working studio and welcome visitors. Her website is at:

Dunbar has an exhibition of her latest work at the Little Vienna Bakery during the month of May. It is a handsome show, warm and touchable.

Little Vienna Bakery is located at 6726 West Coast Road.


Pirjo Raits photo
Phoebe Dunbar is adding woodworking to her passions.
Around One More Point book cover written and illustrated by Mary Gazetas, top right.
She lets nature dictate the shape she enhances in reclaimed wood

Unlocking her artistic potential

By Pirjo Raits
Sooke News Mirror
Nov 22 2006

If you could harness a person's energy and positive attitude and mold it into someone - that someone would likely turn out to be Phoebe Dunbar.

Phoebe is a human dynamo - she never stops looking around at the world with the enthusiasm of someone who is seeing things for the first time.

She is an active outdoors woman, fisher, volunteer, and artist. Each of her pursuits is infused with passion, wonder and her effusive personality.

She is known for many things in Sooke, and her latest creative venture has her unlocking her artistic potential. She hadn't really thought of herself as an artist, but rather a person who saw the beauty of the world around her.

On her forays into the woods and along the coasts of British Columbia, she always managed

to drag home interesting pieces of driftwood and roots. These found items became Phoebe's medium.

"It's wood sculpture," says Dunbar. "It's really nature that does it."

She works with the shapes, including the flaws, in the wood and manages to find form and function in Mother Nature's leftovers. Her wood comes from everywhere.

"Who would have thought I would rave about what you can find in a clear-cut," she said.

Phoebe's studio/workshop is full of burls, slabs and rounds of most of the coastal tree species. When she first began carving, she used knives and hand tools, now her choice is power tools.

Her early woodwork was done when she and her twin sister Mary went on their yearly paddling trips along the coastlines of B.C. It was those trips along the coast that started Phoebe dreaming. She said she was shaped as a person on those voyages. They gave her the confidence and self assurance to try something new.

She would carve in camp to fill the hours, then when she retired in 1998 she took a few lessons with Victor Newman.

"It's time now to pursue artistic adventures and woodworking is an area to be creative."

She looks for pieces of burls with swirls, grooves, lips and sink holes. The odder the shape the better as far as she is concerned. Her free-form burl bowls come alive through the finishing stages of sanding, oiling and waxing.

Her first work was given away to friends and family and eventually someone said she should try to sell some of it. This past weekend she set up a display of her work at the All Sooke Arts and Crafts Christmas Fair, and a few weeks ago she exhibited her burl bowls at her

twin sister Mary's book launch at the Sooke Harbour House.

Mary Gazetas wrote "Around One More Point" about her and Phoebe's paddling adventures. For 24 years the sisters canoed and kayaked all along the vast British Columbia coast.

The book is laid out like a journal - full of photos, drawings and impressions of the places they would visit. It is, in some ways, intensely personal, but it does leave the reader yearning to spend time doing simpler things.

Their trips were never high-tech or West Coast-trendy. They were, at times, in old beat-up canoes, with basic functional gear, and comfortable clothes. It was just about being there, experiencing the water and being together. The book gives one a glimpse into the lives of two women, who in their own right are a example to us all, both for their spirit of adventure and their open hearts.

Phoebe wants to continue to grow as an artist. She still volunteers for the numerous causes she takes on and for someone who was almost wheelchair bound a year ago, she is living true to her ideals.

"Volunteering is about making the world bigger than yourself," said Phoebe.

She said if she hadn't volunteered she would never have know how rich this community is.

For Phoebe Dunbar it appears that retirement is just a concept.


© Copyright 2006 Sooke News Mirror

e Harbour Houseenna Bakery in Sooke