Sandoval Signpost
An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Featured Artist

Dennie York in her Placitas studio. Photo credit: Oli Robbins

c. Dennie York

c. Dennie York

Wood creations, by Dennie York.

From programs to patterns: the woodworks of Dennie York

—Oli Robbins

Dennie York always felt that she was missing something—some gene, some predilection that the rest of her family had. Growing up in a family with an architect/wood worker, a stained glass artist, and a graphic artist, Dennie was exposed to the arts from all angles. But unlike her father, mother, and sister, art-making didn’t call out to her. Dennie knew she could draw—she took drafting in high school and did quite well—but she didn’t. Instead, she found herself pursuing skills more suited to her brain’s left side. She deeply enjoyed her computer programming classes in college, and they led her into a fulfilling line of work. The logic. The rationality. Computers just satisfied her! So, no one was more surprised than Dennie herself to find that, after spending a happy 24 years working with computers, she too had an inner artist—and a quite talented one at that.

Says Dennie, “One day I was sitting in front of my dad’s desk, watching him draw, and I saw my mom in her shop absorbed in her stained glass, and my sister involved in graphic arts, and I just felt that there must be something else.” Dennie is a firm believer that things happen when they are meant to, and at that moment, she sensed herself “open up to the possibility of creating.” For the next several years, Dennie’s desire to work with wood grew. Then one day, at work, she noticed a small pine Christmas tree on a co-worker’s desk. After inquiring about it, her co-worker informed her that she had actually made it with a tool called a scroll saw — a saw (electric or pedal-operated) that cuts intricate patterns and ornamental scrolls. Dennie had never before known that the scroll saw existed, but boy, did she want one. Her husband Rick sought out and bought the mysterious (and large) tool for his excited wife. Dennie immediately began teaching herself the scroll saw, which she likens to a sewing machine—unintimidating and capable of labyrinthine designs. At that point, there was only one book on the topic, but she used the patterns she found within it to begin sawing simple, functional objects. When time and weather allowed, she took her beloved scroll saw outside and played. But she hadn’t the time or space to devote herself appropriately to the craft.

“It seems like a recurring theme in my life: some catalyst comes along and I jump into something with all my energy.” Before the scroll saw, it was sewing, and before that: computers. Dennie remembers being in college working as a keypunch operator in the computer center. She admired and envied the fashionable wardrobes of her female colleagues, but she was on a limited budget. “So,” remembers Dennie, “I went out and bought a sewing machine and taught myself how to sew. I took the most complicated pattern I could find and made every mistake possible and learned.” Her mother, a seamstress, had urged Dennie to learn to sew as a teenager but Dennie, then a tomboy, rejected her attempts. Dennie surely made her mother proud by fashioning all her own work clothes just a few years later. Her initial engagement with the scroll saw was similar to her experience with the sewing machine; she took advanced, complex patterns, and messed them up time and again until mastering them.

Dennie grew up in West Texas until age 14, when her family moved to Roswell. After receiving her bachelors and masters degrees from Eastern New Mexico University, Dennie moved to Albuquerque, where she met her husband and began working for PNM, and later, Apple. In 1988, Rick’s job took them both to Northern California, where Dennie had no problem finding work. “It was the best time, perfect for computers,” recalls Dennie.

Dennie is blessed to have spent those years truly content with her work. But, each time she went back to Roswell to visit her family, she missed NM more and more. During each trip, her dad would carve her something out of wood. Says Dennie, “I’d watch him make it and think, “what I really want to do is make that myself.” Perhaps without knowing it, New Mexico became, for Dennie, synonymous with art. In 1995, Dennie and Rick moved back “home,” building their house in Placitas. Rick was able to live in Placitas by telecommuting, and traveling extensively to his job in California. Dennie was posed to start another job in California that would require her to move again, but she just couldn’t do it. “We had our dream house and our dream place to live.” And with that, Dennie switched gears, leaving computers for handcrafts. She set up her shop, found a mentor in Bernalillo wood carver Paula Dimit, and began her love affair with the scroll saw.

Dennie’s earliest pieces were simple, flat items, boasting southwestern designs. She now experiments with many different techniques and makes more sophisticated images that are sometimes three-dimensional by using a more advanced “compound” cut. Dennie primarily crafts functional objects like clocks, mirrors, bowls, and trivets, but will sometimes create wooden flowers and other purely decorative items. Her designs are derived from patterns, which she draws onto, and then cuts into wood or Corian. The finished products are so precise that they often are falsely believed to have been made with a laser. But indeed, all of her designs are hand sawn. Her “computer brain” still comes in handy, for scroll sawing is a meticulous practice. She refers to her work as “designs expressed as art, inspired by nature, created from the heart.” 

After twenty years, the “repetitive process of sanding, drilling, and locking and unlocking the blades on the saw” has proven tiring and physically demanding. Though Dennie continues to prolifically produce, she has recently begun to give her body a break by creating “zentangles”—meditative images that result from drawing patterns repetitively; the exercise aids in concentration and relaxation. Last year, Dennie traveled to Rhode Island to attend a training class to become a CZT, or Certified Zentangle Teacher.  

Dennie shows her work at the Weems Gallery in Old Town (and will be present at the Weems Artfest on November 15 to November 17) as well as at the Home at the Range gift shop. She will also be participating in Christmas at Clearlight, the juried art show that takes place alongside the Placitas Holiday Fine Arts and Crafts Sale on November 23 to November 24. Dennie has been an exhibitor at Clearlight’s fair for several years and now serves as one of the jurors and organizers. View Dennie’s wood creations on her website at or learn more about her zentangles by visiting her new blog:

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