Do you know how sometimes, someone wants to give you a gift and they don’t know what to give? So they wrap up money and say, “Buy something fun that you really want. Don’t you dare pay bills with this!”
Several Christmases ago, Betsy Pozzanghera’s mother-in-law did just that. And Betsy, quite rightly, did NOT pay bills with the money, but took a leather making class. After successfully sewing her first bag from a pattern and purchased leather hide, she began developing her own patterns and designs.
“Once that first bag was completed, I wondered if I could use my old leather fashion boots as part of another bag,” the Spokane, WA, artist says. “The next bag after that, I used material from an old leather jacket.
“Then I really got the re-purposing bug.”
And so her business, B. Pozzitive Bags was born. (Betsy, by the way, is the “B” in the company name.)
“The majority of my creations use 90-100% repurposed leather (jackets, boots, horse tack, belts, etc.),” Pozzanghera says. “There are so many of those items, and if I can rescue them from the landfill, I will.”
Because the materials that she uses for each bag is unique, so also is each finished leather creation. Blue, brown, purple beige; suede or smooth; embellished with pockets, applique, buckles, and snaps — each bag is one of a kind and utterly distinctive. Often, the re-purposed materials themselves dictate what the finished creation will be.
“Each jacket (or boot, or . . . ) is unique and tells me its story. I get my inspiration from them one at a time,” Pozzanghera explains.
“I’ve cut one part of a bag from a jacket only to decide it is not right for that bag.
“Sometimes I see two or three bags in one jacket, so I make them one after another. But there are some jackets that have been in my closet for years, awaiting inspiration.”
Leather Is Not a Forgiving Fabric
Sewing with leather, she adds, is challenging, because the material itself is not forgiving. Once you punch, poke, or sew a hole, that mark is there forever. On the positive, or, er, pozzitive side, the material is strong, whether it’s super soft and pliable or hard and stiff. (She prefers soft and pliable.)
Over the years, Pozzanghera’s studio space has grown as the number of sewing machines she uses increases. Working out of a room in the basement of her house, she started with one machine, a portable cutting table, and an ironing board. Now, 200-square feet later (and she’d like more room), she has four sewing machines. Two are “regular” machines for standard fabric. One is for sewing canvas and light leather. The fourth, her new baby, is “huge, heavy, and can sew through an inch (yes, one inch!) of leather.”
Custom Projects Are Especially Meaningful
Some of Pozzanghera’s favorite creations are those fashioned as custom projects. Many of these use items from a family member, Dad’s old cowboy boots, for example, and result in a functional art piece that increases in meaning and memento every time it is held and handled.
Pozzanghera has sold her leather bags throughout the Western U.S. and Canada, and one is in Australia with a college student at Wollongong University. She has shown her work at festivals and art shows all over Washington, as well as in Idaho and Nevada.
That Christmas gift from her mother-in-law, the money that didn’t go to pay bills, has gone a long way. So . . . the next time someone doesn’t know what to get you, and they give you money, and they say, “Don’t you DARE pay the bills with this,” don’t pay the bills with it. Instead, go do something fun, and pozzitive.
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail email@example.com. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Friday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.
Within each day, we do a lot of things, say a lot of things, without knowing what impact one particular action will make on another. Artist Jeremiah Colladay found that a simple gift from a friend resulted in a complete career change, as well as the building of a business.
“Most of my childhood was spent playing the drums and guitar, filling my sketchbooks with pencil and ink drawings, and innovating new products from objects I found around the house,” the Spokane craftsman, who specializes in creating Western leathercraft with a decidedly Pacific Northwest style, says.
“In my early twenties, I transferred my drawing skills to the world of tattooing, but a few years later discovered my true artistic passion when a friend gave me a sewing awl and a bag of old leather scraps.”
Learning from a Leather Master
Colladay tracked down a custom saddle maker, with whom he embarked upon a three-year apprenticeship, learning what is today considered a dying art. He learned how to create patterns that transferred well to the medium, how to properly sew leather, and how to carve, tool, and dye it in such a way that the artwork emerged, strong and integrated. Upon completing his apprenticeship, Colladay collaborated with his writer and photographer wife, Erin, to establish Colladay Leather. He creates the products; she manages the business. They both design.
Working out of a studio that takes up most of the daylight basement in their rural north Spokane home, the couple fashions hand-carved, hand-beveled, hand-shaded, and hand-dyed products from leather, with no two exactly alike. In addition to making wallets and journal covers, items that many people associate with leather, Colladay Leather designs and crafts earrings, zipper pulls, camera straps and guitar straps from leather tanned exclusively in the U.S., a policy the couple created in order to maintain high standards of quality, as well as assurance that the material has been produced under sustainable conditions.
“Our passion is for artistry and the creative process, in all its forms,” Erin says.
“We believe creativity has been written into the soul of every person, and our desire is to nurture that through our work. Through every product we produce, our goal is that our work will inspire others in their own creative journey, in whatever form that may take.”
Artisan Work in Leather
There’s something about the artisan process, she muses, that evokes passion and wonder, which thereby translate into a quest for excellence in all arenas of life.
“We have largely moved away from this in our society, but Colladay Leather strives to see us return.”
The couple develops and expands its product line through close communication with customers, as well as a streak of practicality. For example, Jeremiah developed the popular three- and seven-pocket tool rolls to address the frustration he experienced while pawing through a pencil pouch to find the tools he needed. The tool rolls streamlined and organized pens, pencils, and other small tools that otherwise jumbled together.
Inspiration for artwork on the products arises from the Inland Northwest itself, its landscapes, flora, and fauna, as well as Jeremiah’s background in tattooing. What results, Jeremiah says, is a unique piece of art, one that is also functional. It can be worn and used daily.
“When you hold our products, you are asked to slow down and take heed of quality and beauty,” he explains.
“An encounter with our work inspires you to pursue creativity and excellence in your own work, be it in the boardroom, the emergency room, the kitchen, or the studio.
“It’s a lot to ask of a leather accessory, but we believe it is an attainable aspiration.”
Leather: Functional and Beautiful
As beautiful as leather is, it is a difficult medium in which to work because of its unforgiving nature. Any cuts, indentations, or nicks made to it are permanent, and once the dyeing process begins, things get especially tricky.
“One small slip of the brush, and you can undo hours of intensive work,” Jeremiah says.
But that’s all part of crafting, and craftsmanship — the careful attention to detail, as well as the time it takes to create a functional item of beauty.
“Crafted to Inspire is our guiding principal,” Jeremiah says.
“It describes what we do and why we do it.”
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment.
It doesn’t matter whether you call her Nanna, Nona, Gramma, Grams, Babushka, Abuela, or any of the thousands of variations of “Grandmother” — if that woman makes a positive influence on your life, she makes a lasting one.
Leather designer Shelby Sneva, who creates hand-crafted wallets, clutches, cuffs, shoulder bags, and jewelry from fine and reclaimed leather, credits her artistry today to a Singer sewing machine gifted by her Nanna when Sneva was six.
“I always thought it was the most fantastic hunk of metal, gears and knobs!” the Bellingham artist remembers. “I fumbled around on that machine for several years, making outfits and teaching myself to be a crafty little stitcher.”
Nanna’s Lasting Gift
From crafty little stitcher, Sneva eventually graduated to professional artist, earning her BFA from Western Washington University with a primary focus on painting and sculpture. Ironically, despite taking every studio art class available at the university — from photography to fibers and fabrics, from papermaking to welding — Sneva didn’t discover her particular niche until her mother, an interior decorator, passed on some leather samples from her furniture business.
“That’s when the passion of leatherworking was ignited,” Sneva says. Like many passions, it had been burning underneath, but so steadily and quietly she hadn’t recognized its importance. She simply accepted its existence as normal.
Leather and Sewing Are Timeless
Though Sneva had initially fallen in love with oil painting, to the point of moving to the East Coast to apprentice with landscape oil painter Curt Hanson, she never stopped the sewing she started when she was 6, and found greatest pleasure in creating fabric wallets and gifts for friends and family.
The discovery of leather, then, was a momentous one, and in 2004 Sneva opened her business, Sown Designs, which she markets through Etsy, her online website, the Bellingham Farmers Market, and her studio in downtown Bellingham at the Waterfront Artists’ Studios.
“Thanks to the online marketplace,” Sneva says, “I have sold wallets all around the world — from Switzerland, Germany, London, Norway, Canada, and all over the U.S.” Sneva’s work has been juried into and vended at shows like Urban Craft Uprising and the Fremont Fair in Seattle, and is featured at more than a dozen gift and retail shops in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, California, and Alaska.
The Aroma of Leather in Bellingham
“I love the smell of leather,” Sneva says, adding that her studio exudes the aroma. “I am always learning new things, new techniques with leather work, so I am never bored!”
From the discontinued leather samples passed on by her mother, Sneva has added a number of local stores and leather distributors to provide the materials for her work. The combination of working with local resources as well as reclaimed materials is a benefit to suppliers and clients, as well as to the environment, Sneva believes.
“It is my priority to connect with suppliers/buyers who also appreciate the effort, quality, and uniqueness of handmade pieces,” Sneva says.
“The great thing about my accessories is that they are all one of a kind. That makes it unique for the owner to have something no one else has, and it makes it fun for me to create without feeling like a factory.
“I really pay attention to details with each wallet, using my sewing machine like a drawing tool to draw stitch patterns and make designs with leather geometric shapes and colors.” For her wallets, Sneva chooses upholstery leather, which she describes as durable and soft, acquiring a beautiful patina over time. Hand-crafted art, Sneva believes, becomes a part of its owners’ lives, adding dimension and beauty to the day.
A Nanna Aphorism
Quite recently, Sneva enjoyed one of those rare, but memorable full-circle moments that we all treasure when they happen.
“I was a presenting artist at our Bellingham Museum for Art Career Day,” Sneva explains. “As I spoke, I remembered participating in similar workshops with Spokane (where Sneva grew up) artists when I was a high school student and young aspiring artist.”
In effect, what goes around comes around, a timeless aphorism that sounds like something one’s Nanna, or Nona, or Abuela, Babushka, Baba, Yaya, Oma, or Gram would say. But that only makes sense, because the things that woman says and does really do make the difference of a lifetime.
Shelby Sneva is the Featured Pacific Northwest Artist at Wenaha Gallery from Monday, July 17 through Saturday, August 12, 2017.
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail email@example.com. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.