A Sooke artist’s passion for wood art

Sooke artist Phoebe Dunbar finds her calling in retirement

All the little experiences we go through in life are how we find our passions.

This is especially true for Sooke artist Phoebe Dunbar, who after many twists and turns in her life revolving around her love of nature, eventually found her passion: wood art.

Dunbar grew up in West Vancouver with three siblings, John, Tim and Mary, and her two parents, David and Babs Brock.

“We lived by a beach and my father was a nature enthusiast, so he would often teach my siblings and I about the different types of driftwood floating in from the ocean,” said Dunbar.

In her teenage years, Dunbar and her twin sister would paddle out to different islands and spend days exploring the outdoors and camping.

After high school graduation, Dunbar studied social work in college where she met her husband, Bob Dunbar, and in 1979, the two moved to Sooke.

Dunbar worked as an extra-curricular coordinator for Edward Milne Community School. Through this, she helped students build longboats that are still used by the Sooke Classical Boating Society.

She explained that she enjoyed building boats, and sometimes her and Bob would go on paddling trips and carve small projects together.

“I remember the one time we carved a little a chess set,” Dunbar said.

In 1998, Dunbar retired, but it wasn’t until she took a carving class with local carver Victor Newman and tried her hand at wood art that she found her passion.

“A lot of it at the start was functional, people just wanted bowls,” Dunbar said.

She specializes in making bowls and vessels, but lately has been trying her hand at making more decorative pieces.

“It’s just this really creative space that you get into, I guess it’s kind of meditative of sorts,” Dunbar said.

She finds most of her wood supply while out on hikes or in the ditches, but also has people donate wood to her.

“My number one rule is always carry a chainsaw in your truck,” laughed Dunbar.

She often uses burrows from trees to carve the bowls, which can be anywhere from 40 to 500 years old.

“They are really ‘garbagey’ looking wood, you wouldn’t know that you can make something really beautiful out of them,” Dunbar said.

Dunbar’s favourite part about creating an art piece is sculpting and sanding where she can see it start to reveal itself.

“I usually don’t really know what I’m making until I start to work with it and sculpt it and let the wood tell me what it’s going to be,” said Dunbar. “I can’t explain it, it’s just like this atonement you have with the wood.”

She added that her passion for woodwork just found it’s way to her, and working in her studio is where she finds a lot of peace and joy.

“I’m so happy to have my carving shed, it’s very comfortable, and a very special place where I can just go and be by myself,” she said.

“Just me and my tools, it’s a very beautiful zone to be in.”