Leather Craft — Handcrafted Beauty from Bellingham Artist Shelby Sneva
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.