Gorjana Ponjevic Ballani, owner of Wood Planet – Wood doctor
Whether it’s a chopping block, kitchen, garden furniture, or a wood house, Gorjana Ponjevic Ballani can make it. This wonder-woman makes piece furniture and façade carpentry and restores old interior carpentry and makes new one.
– The new from the old, the old from the new, it all depends on the client’s wishes. All pieces are authentic, and I never make two identical ones. The time needed to make a piece mostly depends on the inspiration, but also on the specificity of the piece, on its complexity... It happens that I finish certain pieces before the deadline, whereas others linger around the store waiting for their turn to come. I am not pressured by time and I am relaxed when I work – Gorjana says in her interview for eKapija.
The owner of the Perlez-based workshop Wood Planet says that the key challenge in her job is being a woman.
– Carpentry itself is dying out and is one of the old trades. Prejudices about women not being fit for this line of work and comments such as “get me someone I can talk business with”, as well as the “carpentress” dilemma are some of the challenges I meet. Still, it didn’t take too long for colleagues and clients to accept that I’m in this line of work – our interviewee explains.
Thanks to her determined attitude and success, Gorjana is one of the 24 candidates for the prestigious Success Flower award, which is to be handed out by the Association of Business Women in Serbia on October 26. She says that being nominated means a lot to her.
It all started in Italy
Italy has changed a lot in the life of Gorjana Ponjevic Ballani. Two decades ago, she went to work at the wood-stair factory in the city of Forli and fell in love with woodworking and this trade.
– Once you get sawdust in your blood, you can’t go on without it – our interviewee says.
– I was in charge of sandpapering steps between the two coating processes. I had never held a grinder in my hands before, but I proved to be good at it. When they found out at the company that I had a college degree in civil engineering, I was promoted to a quality controller. That’s where I met my husband, who worked as a supplier. In two years, I learned a lot about woodworking and workplace safety and I perfected my knowledge of the language. I wanted to develop professionally and I therefore enrolled at the Forli Technical College – Gorjana tells us.
She soon left her job in Italy and dedicated herself to her studies and practical work. With her husband, she left for Iasi, a Romanian city where his family owns a sawmill.
– I gained additional knowledge in Romania and completed the circle – from getting to know the forest, through cutting down trees, to exploitation and so on. As is the case with all factories, the operations were carried out serially and I soon realized I was not interested in that. I couldn’t see myself in my husband’s factory, making thousands of identical elements whose purpose I was unfamiliar with. That’s why I decided to establish a workshop in my father-in-law’s garage. It started growing at an incredible rate all the way up till 2010, when we moved to Serbia.
Her job aside, Gorjana sees as her greatest success the fact that she has managed to interest her seven-year-old successor Mattea in the family business. This, as she says, is the best way for her art to continue.
– My daughter once asked me if I was truly capable of healing each piece of wood I worked with.
– I said yes, to which she replied that I then had to be a true wood doctor. That’s how I got this nickname.
Affirmation of other women
Among the challenges she is facing in her efforts to further develop her business, Gorjana highlights the lack of wood industry in Zrenjanin and the consequent lack of expert workforce that might help her step up her production.
– A small family business with a large capacity and a serious mechanical park unfortunately remains unused. I have a plan to bring together a team of woodworking aficionados and teach them what I have learned through several decades of being in the trade, preventing it from dying out and snatching it out of oblivion. It is my great desire to teach other women how to be carpentresses and I hope with all my heart for that wish to come true – Gorjana adds.