Artist creates original pieces using salvaged materials

Los Fresnos native woodturner of Seaside WoodCo Ivan Benavides works in his South Texas shed creating handmade wooden goods using salvaged Texas timber from native trees on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

LOS FRESNOS — Ivan Benavides, 33, was not familiar with the term “wood turning.”

Now, he is taking the term and the phrase “wood turner” with ownership in hopes more people will become acquainted with it.

Benavides was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley and went to school in Los Fresnos.

By the looks of his multiple tattoos and piercing, it is obvious he is a free spirited, creative person.

At least that is how he describes himself.

He attended the Art Institute of San Antonio, where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts and Photography in 2014. Later on he worked with a company where he photographed hotels for four years.

“Eventually I got tired of all the traveling and I was looking for something new to do,” Benavides said.

What was supposed to be a normal stroll at the beach became an opportunity for Benavides to find his new hobby and now job.

“Me and my wife like to go scavenging on the beach. We were out there and I found some driftwood and I brought the piece home and I wanted to make something out of it,” he said.

“I wasn’t really that great at working with flat wood at the time. I started doing some research and learned about wood turning and that is where the name comes about,” Benavides said.

His brand and company is Seasidewoodco, and he remembers the first time he made something was in November 2017.

“Since then I have been getting more refined in my work and have started working with the community,” he said.

Wood turning is the craft of using the wood lathe with hand-held tools to cut a shape that is symmetrical around the axis of rotation. Benavides said he made his wife a small pencil holder out of the driftwood he found at the beach that day.

“That is kind of what led me to want to create pieces people can use or hold. It was a black walnut brought from somewhere up north,” Benavides said, as he reminisced about his first time turning wood.

“Learning the tools, it was something else. It was a little intimidating; it was all on my research and trial and error. It is a lot of studying, especially in getting my tools to cut the way I wanted them to cut,” he said.

Benavides has a shop behind his house in Los Fresnos where he works. He looks around for wood in the Valley he can salvage and use for his work.

His favorite kind to use is the Texas ebony, but he also uses pieces of anaqua trees and mesquite.

Benavides creates wooden bowls and utensils for dishes as well as furniture.

“It started off as a hobby. I have always been artistic and have always liked creating art. One of the issues I had with photography was I could not give someone a solid piece,” he said.

“It was the fact you are able to create a subtractive art form from a log into a bowl that can be used for food and people can hold, that is what really attracted me,” Benavides said.

In March 2018, he opened his Etsy shop where he started to promote his items.

Now, his work can be found at the store Procured Life in Downtown Harlingen.

“I know I have pieces all over the United States. New York, Chicago, every month I have around ten clients,” he said.

The process is slow. The wood has to dry and the bowls take time to be fully finished.

But, the originality from his work is what makes it stand out and has brought Benavides success.

Currently, he does have a separate part-time job, but his main focus is centered in his wood crafting.

“It is expanding. I am doing a whole dining room to be redone and I am expanding the business to create it full time,” he said.

Benavides also does stools with his wood but has yet to create an entire wooden stool. That is his next goal, he said.

“I want to make a stool with the stretchers and legs all wood. I have the pieces right there, I haven’t gotten to it. It is a new challenge to progress into furniture making” Benavides said.

From this experience, he has learned to find his niche.

“I have found my art form. I have been doing art since I was a child and I finally feel I found something where my work is appreciated and I appreciate my work,” he said.

“It is satisfying, it is a feeling I haven’t felt in any other art form before,” Benavides said.

Another thing he enjoys about the wood turning is being able to see his clients’ reactions once he delivers the finished product.

“When I get to sell something to someone in person it is a great experience. They will hold that bowl and say ‘oh man it feels so nice, so smooth’ and I do pride myself in making sure my work is to that quality where they are going to love it,” he said.

His most sold out items currently are a specific kind of coffee mugs called kuksas, a type of drinking cup traditionally made by the Sami people of northern Scandinavia.

Benavides gets help from his wife Annie when it comes to handling the website. Annie is a tattoo artist and during the pandemic she tattooed a wood lathe on Benavides’s arm.

The shop has been open for three years and Annie decided to do it for him to commemorate the anniversary.

“I had been wanting to get myself a lathe tattoo on me and it was the perfect timing, why not,” he said.

“It was to solidify it, that is what he does. It is better than a wedding ring,” she said.