Artistry from the Ground Up

By in Arts & Music, Community, People

Sticks and stones can break your bones… but they can also be used in free-form art along with seeds, bugs, moss and cattail fluff. Sounds earthy and organic – and it is – from simple elements an artist can produce some of the most outstanding pieces with blazingly beautiful colors.
That artist would be Dana (the Bird) Jaunzemis. Dana has travelled extensively studying art, and from all Canadian locations drags nature-type things home to be stored in the family shed till she finds a use for them.
Her love of nature started when she was a kid. After the road was raised and a big culvert put in to replace the bridge near their front field, Dana and her brother found clay which had been dug up from the riverbed, and fashioned little teapots and cups to play with.
Jaunzemis feels she takes after her mom Laurel, who likes to express herself through stained glass, sewing and painting. Dana attributes her appreciation for nature from growing up on a farm and always stopping to pick up things because she thought they were beautiful. She has done some welding and crude material sculptures but she wants to get away from than end and go into natural earth-productions and landscaping.
After graduation from McMaster University came two years in British Columbia studying organic gardening and permaculture. She took the Organic Master Gardener’s course through a school called Gaia College. Last summer she came back to the Harriston area because in B.C. she was becoming a victim of the “starvin’ artist” syndrome, and was finding that province just too expensive.
She wanted to have land to work. This summer she will be rejuvenating and making new beds and planting areas around the stately old brick house where her parents live. She will also be starting some organic gardens. All this work is a throw-back from what she learned in her permaculture course.
Just as important as ‘what’ she will be doing is the ‘where’ she will be doing it. She is living where her grandparents Sid and Doris Jaunzemis started organic farming over 50 years ago. Sid was passionate about organic practices and was a successful beekeeper. He wanted the land to continue being prolific and planted lots of fruit trees, which are still standing. Son Andrew, who purchased the farm, was already a high school teacher in Listowel so the land was rented out to neighbors for cropping. Dana would like to change all that and eventually bring the farm back to its former organic status by creating self-sustaining food forests. She’s also going back to school in September for Registered Massage Therapy.
The dream goal is to someday have a Healing Retreat Centre which would include her arts studio, therapy rooms, and her gardens. For Dana all these things intertwine. The thought of purchasing other land has come up, but the ancestral connections on her family farm keep bringing her back to this area.
Right now her art is taking precedence. When she came back from B.C. last fall she moved in with her parents, and all winter her art studio has been in their white carpeted living room. There are plans for the construction of a new shed and studio. Eventually she wants to be making large scale earth art installations. In the works is a life-sized humpback whale which, so far, has been entirely carved from wood. Right now she has to be content with making smaller pieces that will sell. Dana likes funky bright colors and by using things from nature she can get away from materials and chemicals that are bad for the body and bad for the environment. In her words, “This keeps me real and keeps me grounded”.
While Jaunzemis was out west she studied with a few different Healers – one being a medicine man from Peru. He was connected with the earth and taught her the art of Despacho which is essentially an offering to Mother Nature. During her first experience, her new teacher did a Despacho ceremony with 50+ people. Each one was to bring him an offering, while at the same time adding positive thoughts or intentions into the ceremony. He would then artistically arrange the nature gifts within a circle. This whole arrangement is only temporary. Dana later had the chance to work one-on-one with the same teacher while on Vancouver Island and is also part of a Shamanic dreaming/meditation group, based out of Vancouver. Her most recent works, titled “Despacho 1-4”, are inspired by her Despacho and meditation ceremonies. Several other pieces are inspired by visions which have been channeled through group meditations.
Dana is also inspired by sacred geometry, the golden spiral, and the mathematics of nature. All this can be seen in her most recent works.
Her biggest mentor in school was her sculpture professor who also taught her Raku – a firing process that heats clay to at least 1000 degrees in an outdoor, propane-fuelled kiln. The piece is then carefully extracted from the kiln and put into a bin of flammable material. The smoke and fire causes the item to turn fabulous colors. Dana constructed her own raku kiln while in school and is keen to have it fired up in the back yard.
A few summers during University, Jaunzemis worked as a tree planter near Thunder Bay. Whenever she found something interesting she would pick it up and save it. By the end of the day her pockets would be brimming with treasures. One day a friend found an entire moose spine. Dana carefully logged it, put it in a box, and shipped it home. Eventually that paid off big time.
It was during one of these summers while continually picking up things that one of her friends started to call her “Dana Bird”. That stuck and flicked off to several nicknames – and hence her website
Dana does not sit and sketch out a project, but rather jumps right in and goes wherever the challenge takes her, problem solving along the way. A prime example was when she was in the Toronto show for the “Untapped Emerging Artists Competition” as part of “The Artist Project”. She was accepted as one of only eighteen across Canada, and as one of the youngest was awarded a free installation space. Her determination showed through when she quipped to her sculpture professor and mentor that she was going to win the competition. He rebutted with the fact that it was usually one of the weirdo unknown artists who took home the prize. Jaunzemis turned out to be that weirdo, and not only took home the Best In Show Award but also won a free space to the following years competition.
The “weirdo” piece evolved and grew each day as she dreamed up something to add to it. This huge critter had to be welded. As a student she had never welded before but for this project, once she made up her mind it had to be done – she went ahead and learned how to do it. Everything in her stash was added – ceramic pieces, wire, textiles, grasses, stones, quartz crystals – and her complete moose spine! From that mix of materials grew a 6 foot Praying Mantis. It had wings made of soldered wire and plant material, wound wire for feelers, a real (moose) spine, green ceramic globular eyes and a head with peacock feathers. A green body under the wings was fabric sewn around a chicken wire frame. Large tufts of living wheat grass helped to create an environment for the critter, as well as a myriad of ceramic toadstools and other plant materials.
One woman visiting the show connected with the sculpture and was moved to tears – to Dana that was the epitome of success.
Except that she wants everything to be ‘earthy’ Jaunzemis has not found her niche. She does whatever she feels like doing when she starts a piece. Spiders, bugs and flies are fun to make. One of her works, a 4’ x 7’ deep blue canvas has 17 beautiful dragonflies made from copper wire and crinkled cellophane. Another large orange/red masterpiece shows sea turtles making their way from their burrow to the water. All of her works are three-dimensional, sometimes with holes in the canvas to display another feature behind.
While a tree-planting summer student Dana peeled reams and reams of birch bark, rolled it up, saved it, and brought it home. This went to Vancouver with her where she made an elephant head for a show. This life-like head called “Ancient Wisdom” also contained bees wax, and labradorite stones for eyes. The head travelled home to Harriston, but has since been shipped back to Vancouver for a client.
The giant prize-winning praying mantis stands, rusting, in her dad’s driving shed. It will be revived in her gardens this summer.
Dana Jaunzemis’s captivatingly large, colorful and three-dimensional work will be shown at the Minto Arts Gallery in the new addition of the Harriston Public Library. This show of mixed media sculpture inspired by things from the natural world, commences Tuesday, May 7th and will run for approximately 7 weeks. Dana will be on hand on Thursday May 9th to greet the public and explain some of her procedures.
The Minto Arts Council is pleased to acknowledge The Rural Route magazine as the Exhibition Sponsor for Dana Jaunzemis exhibition.


Dana Jaunzemis explains her interpretation of the turtles leaving the burrow.  Both the burrow and the turtles are three dimensional and that's real sand on the canvas.

Dana Jaunzemis explains her interpretation of the turtles leaving the burrow. Both the burrow and the turtles are three dimensional and that’s real sand on the canvas.

DragonFlies smallerpiece PrayingMantis