Artist unlocks hidden treasures

DALLAS -- Nine years ago local artist Dena Brehm was recovering from a 21-year battle with bulimia when she had a creative impulse.


Dallas resident Dena Brehm takes unwanted pieces of household furniture and turns them into works of art.

DALLAS -- Nine years ago local artist Dena Brehm was recovering from a 21-year battle with bulimia when she had a creative impulse.

She had been looking at an antique milking stool she had in her house and noticed the painting on it. It was a Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign portraying a two-headed bird, one half of the bird representing life, the other, death.

To her, the image symbolized the struggle with illness she was trying to leave behind.

Not wanting the reminder, she painted over it -- and with that began an artistic career that helped her heal.

Brehm, 47, still has the stool in the front hall of her Dallas home. Now, like all her art, the antique stool is a mix of bright colors and patterns.

Brehm calls her art "Serendipties by Dena" -- a name she says reflects her process of finding hidden treasures within everyday objects. Brehm takes unwanted pieces of household furniture and gives them a new look and, in turn, a new life with someone who views them as more than clutter or trash.

She finds material at flea markets, garage sales, and even digs through dumpsters.

"I like the idea of rescuing and reusing," she said.

Brehm's work became a hit in the Washington, D.C. area, where she lived before moving to the Northwest, though about four years ago she put her paint brush down.

She was recently given a reason to pick up where she left off.

Brehm was asked to donate some of her work for a local fundraiser in June. The request had her with paint brush in hand, wondering if she still could paint. When she found she could, Brehm decided to branch out, starting with Art in the Park Sunday and a show at the Majestic this weekend during Summerfest.

She had missed the entry deadline for Art in the Park, but Dallas Art Association President Sally Clark said organizers reconfigured the booth layout to accommodate everybody on the waiting list, including Brehm.

"Her (work) is so colorful and unique," Clark said. "I've never seen furniture painted like that."

Brehm said she is grateful for the opportunity, but scrambling to paint more than 30 pieces in a few weeks has taken over her house and life.

Brehm's work crowds the front room and kitchen of the house she shares with her husband and eight children. She says she feels as scattered as her surroundings look and high on her own adrenaline.

"I have sacrificed sleep, eating, time with my family," she said.

The whirl of artistic activity has been a test and a revelation of what she can accomplish under a strict deadline, but is not her typical pace.

She says sometimes she knows right away what she will do with a piece. Other times, inspiration is a process that develops as she works on a table, desk, foot stool, mirror, lamp or whatever piece of furniture she is transforming.

Brehm's creations seem a ray of sunshine -- with lively patterns, checkerboards and whimsical scenes -- but they still can be used for their original purpose. A table still is a table, a lamp still a lamp, when she puts the paint brush down. She just adds more character, and, she hopes, brings more joy than when she found them.

"I'm out to change the world one piece of furniture at a time," she said.


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