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Posted: October 9, 2019

How one intellectual is finding balance through art

College of the Rockies People: Their Courage, Curiosity, and Contributions

Gaby Zezulka, Chair of Academic Innovation and Applied Research at College of the Rockies, spends a lot of her work day thinking. Whether she’s exploring exciting new program delivery options or overseeing applied research projects conducted by faculty and/or students in conjunction with local businesses, Zezulka’s day-to-day involves significant intellectual prowess.

With a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Alberta, a Master of Arts in Canadian Literature, and an undergraduate degree in English, Zezulka (pictured above) is highly accomplished. It was while working on her PhD dissertation, however, that she realized it was time to also reconnect with her artistic side.

Gaby’s desk.

“It felt like writing a dissertation was a never-ending task,” she said. “It occurred to me randomly one day that building a table was something that had a firm end to it. When you’ve got four legs and a table top, you can call it a table and be finished. I was hungry for something that had a concrete conclusion.”

Zezulka enrolled in the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology’s (NAIT) Woodworking for Women course, while still working on her PhD. She enjoyed it so much she then completed the Institute’s Furniture Design program.

After earning her doctorate, Zezulka worked in a wide-range of academic and consultancy roles before realizing she didn’t want to wait until she had retired to become really proficient at woodworking. She took a year off and enrolled full-time in a second Fine Woodworking diploma program, spending eight hours each day in the workshop. She was hooked.

“I love how wood feels alive in your hands and continues to move, even after it has been harvested from a tree,” she said. “Wood will bend as you manipulate it. It will twist itself into new shapes and reminds you that there’s a spirit even in what we generally consider inanimate objects.”

Since discovering this passion, Zezulka has built tables, cabinets, boxes, and a very challenging desk that incorporated curved lines and compound angles. She was keen to continue to create, and eager to find additional ways to do so.

Gaby’s silverwork.

While looking through a College of the Rockies Continuing Education guide, an Introduction to Silversmithing course being held at the college’s Golden campus caught Zezulka’s eye.

“I thought it looked like fun, it was very affordable, and I love any excuse to spend a weekend in Golden. I went on a whim, made some rings, and had a great time.”

She enjoyed it so much, she returned for a follow-up workshop in September 2019.

In the fall of 2018, after a stressful period, Zezulka made a New Year’s resolution to return to an artistic endeavour she had dabbled in since she was a teenager – painting.

“I knew I needed to do something for stress relief and painting seemed like a quieter option than woodworking that would be less likely to disturb the neighbours. It is also easy to acquire the materials, unlike silversmithing which requires torches and other specialized equipment.”

Gaby’s painting.

She has found painting to be a true escape from day-to-day concerns.

“When I’m painting, I’m only thinking about painting and not about my work world,” she said. “It’s very meditative. I really like the way you can make mistakes and then just paint over them. Some of my canvases I have repainted seven or eight times before I was happy with the colour combination or the shape and line of things.”

While Zezulka loves the challenge and ever-changing nature of her day-to-day job, rediscovering her artistic side has brought a new balance to her life. One that she’s happy to keep separate from her more academic side.

“I don’t think my artistic side is something I use in my work at the college,” she said. “I don’t feel like my hobby is related to work, and in a way that’s a good thing. There isn’t any crossover, they just create a nice sense of equilibrium.”

Photos courtesy College of the Rockies

College of the Rockies

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