Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Friend, His Treasures and Something Weird

On a recent autumn afternoon I took my camera and journeyed out to the backwoods home of a dear friend.
Called Griz by all who know him, he is a man of many talents and wonderful collections. His basement, which is cleverly disguised as a cluttered mess, holds an array of marvels and oddities. This first picture gives a small notion of the initial visual impact of this treasure trove; I call your attention particularly to the unremarkable blue tub in the lower right - it will figure largely in my story as it takes a turn for the weird.

Griz is first and foremost a knapper. He chips magnificent blades and arrowheads out of stones and bits of colored glass. Some he sets into knife handles, many he sells loose to artisans who use them in their own work.
He also makes drums for the Powwow community; everything from small hand-held drums to the large drums used in the center of the circle. All of his drums are made with wood he harvests and skins he tans. There really isn't much that this self-sufficient man cannot do without any assistance from factories or manufacturers.
One of my favorite pictures from that day is this shot of Griz showing off his two-meter wooden feather. He tells a captivating story of watching a lightning bolt strike a tree and splinter it into rubble, leaving behind this incredible work of nature's art. It's one of the few things in his basement that will never be for sale.
So many treasures - too many to show in this post...
He has a penchant for beads and has a fabulous collection of glass chevron beads, both contemporary and antique.
He has a vintage Fender Bass guitar and yes, he can play it!
But in my title I promised you something weird, and here it comes...
When i first began snapping pictures I did not realize that I had my digital camera set to Landscape. Not the right setting for indoor pictures and I shot a few pictures before I realized my mistake and changed to a more appropriate indoor setting.
I didn't think much of it until I got home and downloaded the pictures to my computer.
Remember that blue tub? That perfectly opaque blue tub?
Well, look at this shot... I could not believe what I seemed to be seeing - it seemed I could see through to the contents, though that is surely impossible. Unwilling to believe what my eyes were telling me, I called Griz and asked him what was in that tub. That question confused him and I had to explain why I wanted to know. "A couple of folded blankets," was his answer.
Well holy crap! That certainly seems to be what I am seeing. Griz even made the trip to my house to see for himself and he was as amazed as I was/am.
So, to sum it up in question form, indoor pictures taken on the landscape setting allow the camera to see through heavy opaque plastic? I don't know, but my eyes certainly tell me that, as impossible as it seems, that is somehow exactly what has happened.
Of course, if any of you have a logical explanation, both Griz and I would love to hear it!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bold Beauty

I've been working on a new batch of Earth Medallions for a couple of weeks now.
It's a large batch, so it will take another week or so to bring them all to conclusion. It's a lengthy process, with lots of small steps to pass through before the thrill of cutting the window in the leather setting and revealing the beauty of the stone within. For me, it's a bit like Christmas morning every time!
This is a particularly bold batch thus far, with lots of strong colors and patterns. I'll post a few here - clicking on the pictures will take you to their listings in my Etsy shop, where you can see more pictures of each and find detailed descriptions.

Dalmatian Jasper; distinctively spotted and ultra-earthy. This handsome rock is said to be an ancient stone of kings and shaman.

Lizard Stone Jasper; I've set several pieces of this unique green and brown stone from the American southwest and I've loved them all.

Tiger Eye
; a favorite gemstone worldwide, looks very much like a cat's eye in this sweet little round pendant. It even winks with the shifting light!

These and many more can be viewed in detail in my Etsy shop, linked at the top of the left sidebar.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Rattlesnake Bonanza

Let me start this post with an apology to anyone with a snake phobia. I've seen some strong reactions and it's not my intention to disturb anyone. Feel free to leave without reading this post - I won't be offended!
Though I must confess to a certain amount of squeamishness around live snakes, I've always found the skins to be beautiful.
There is a wide range of color and patterning in the snake kingdom.
Among my favorites is the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake of North America, also called a coon-tail rattler for the raccoon-like striping just above the rattle.
This gorgeous creature has incredible camouflage for its environment and a distinctive warning system to alert anyone who may stray too close. Nature designed them exceedingly well.
I've worked with rattlesnake hides in the past - they make handsome hatbands, belts and wristbands - but it's been awhile.
That's primarily been an issue of supply; once upon a time I got hides from my father-in-law when he was alive and living in New Mexico. He got them from a local wrangler who hunted rattlers to milk for venom and then release, or sometimes to kill, skin & eat.
Though commercially tanned rattlesnake hides are available, I have resisted using them because of my aversion to using products from animals that are killed simply for the skin, as I am sure is the case with the bulk-produced hides.
A few weeks ago at a local craft show, however, I met a woman who lives part time in my area and part time in Arizona. Turns out she & her husband are rattlesnake wranglers.

Long story short, I once again have a source for conscientiously harvested Diamondback skins.
I picked out a handful and plan on spending some time soon turning them into cuffs and hatbands with rattles attached. Watch for them in my Etsy shop and on my website soon.
*Picture of my handcrafted wristband courtesy of Devon Akmon. Picture of the live snake taken from public domain site, credited to Michael Smith*

Monday, September 21, 2009

Time on Rugg Pond

When the weather is too nice to stay inside and work, there are a number of local spots where I can go to soak up some nature.
One of my favorites is a Natural Area called Rugg Pond. Located where the two branches of the Rapid River converge on their way to Torch Lake, it was dammed and harnessed for a power plant in the early 20th century, turning what was once a pond into a small lake.
The plant is long gone, with only a concrete and steel outflow channel remaining, concentrating a rainbow-tinged torrent of water from the lake above to the Rapid River below.
Peaceful despite the remains of the derelict plant, it is home to a wide variety of fish and waterfowl.
There is a family of swans there that I've been watching all summer. The chicks have grown now; I can no longer distinguish them from their parents.
I often see bald eagles skimming the water or flying above, though I have yet to get a picture.
Known locally as a prime fishing hole, it is widely stated (though unproven) that Ernest Hemingway enjoyed a night of angling from the Rugg Pond Dam powerhouse.
Summer didn't really make much of an appearance in northern Michigan this year and is nearly gone. Leaves are beginning their Autumn change. Soon it will be time to think about snow tires and shoveling - knowing that makes an afternoon on Rugg Pond a treasure, indeed!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Custom Regalia Belt

It's always an honor to be asked to make a piece for a dancer's powwow regalia. These outfits are worn in sacred circles; they represent much of what the dancer brings to that circle.
One of the things I love the most about the internet is the ability to connect with dancers outside of my area.
I recently finished a belt for Barbara Hartzell, who dances in the desert
southwest, far from my Great Lakes powwows.
She sent me pictures of her beadwork and asked what I could make that would match or compliment her colors and design. (Her name and her picture are used here with permission.)
The beadwork is lovely, in vibrant colors of turquoise blue and bright pink, all done in cut beads which shimmer like faceted gemstones.
After an exchange of ideas via email we decided on a carved pattern of roses inside hearts.
First the design is drawn on, then cut and pear-shaded for dimension enhancement.
Next the design is beveled; both the roses, petal by petal and the insides of each heart.
Then I matted the heart to recess it from both the rose and the surface of the belt.

The colors were matched to her beadwork; I used a pearlescent pink to compliment the sparkle of the cut beads.

The belt is three inches wide and overlaps in front, where it buckles with attached billets.
Barbara is pleased. I am honored knowing she will be dancing my belt into her circle. It makes me feel that a part of me is also dancing in the desert.
I'm always glad to discuss custom work; please visit my website for further information. (there is a link on the top of the left sidebar)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Words Worth Contemplating

The following quote was attached to an email I received from a customer.

It is a quote that should be shared.

"I do not see a delegation for the Four Footed. I see no seat for the Eagles. We forget and we consider ourselves superior. But we are after all a mere part of Creation. And we must consider to understand where we are. And we stand somewhere between the mountain and the Ant. Somewhere and only there as part and parcel of the Creation."

Chief Oren Lyons, Oneida
in an address to the Non-Governmental Organizations of the United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland, 1977

Saturday, August 22, 2009

My Best-Selling Wristband Design

This flowing vine of flowers is now officially my most popular tooled design ever. Considering that I've been tooling leather for two thirds of my life, that's a significant statement.
Since I introduced it on Etsy as a wristband design just six months ago I have sold hundreds of them.
With some pride I emphasize that each one is tooled individually; though the design is consistent, each band has its own distinct flow of vine, its own unique arrangement of flower and leaf.
My daughter says I must have hit upon some zeitgeist in the current fashion sense; I prefer to think of it as having a classic appeal. (Chuckling at myself there)
Brown was the original coloring, followed quickly by a black version and then with color.
Now, of course, the question arises of how long I will continue this design. The merchant in me says keep tooling it as long as it sells; the artist in me wants to set a limit to keep them special.
Leaning toward the artistic concerns, I am tentatively planning on limiting production of this design to one year, which would be the beginning of March.

Until then they will be available in my Etsy shop or by order at my website. Both are linked at the top of the left sidebar.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Deer Hide Pouches / Medicine Bags

I've been spending the last couple of weeks trying to catch up on my pouch supply, a task that's been put off too long while I've been playing with stones and tooling leather.
Finally, though, I seem to be making some headway. Here are just a few pictures of my latest. The pictures are linked to their listings in my Etsy shop, where you can find additional pictures and details as well as more pouches.

People often ask me if these are medicine bags. The answer is simple. "Maybe."
Whether or not something is a medicine bag has much more to do with how it's used than what it's called. When used for carrying ceremonial herbs or other items of spiritual significance, it is a medicine bag. If it carries common items like money or your cellphone, it's a pouch.
What I can say on the subject is that these deer hide pouches are made in a good way; entirely by hand with individual attention to detail given to each one. If you choose to use them in a spiritual way, I thank you for that trust.
(If you're interested in seeing a bit of my pouch-making processes you can find my previous posts on deer hide pouches in the Post Category list on the left sidebar.)

Friday, July 31, 2009

Setting Snaps Can Make You Cuss

Snap placement is one of those necessary chores many leather-crafters have come to dread. Bent posts, misaligned caps, squished parts - the list of ways a snap can go wrong is extensive.
I've received a few requests to do a tutorial video on snap-setting, so I did one with my methods for the two most-used snaps in leather-crafting, the heavy-duty Line 24 snaps and the lighter-duty Segma snaps.
At 3 1/2 minutes, the download was too big for the Blogger system, but I've posted it to YouTube. Here's the link -
Here is a summary of what it covers:
Part of the difficulty arises from the tools that many of us use.
The mallet-driven setters are economical but often not worth the savings, particularly when setting the Line 24 snaps.
If you set a lot of these snaps, or wish you could, I strongly recommend an investment in a snap-setting tool. There are a few on the market, but my favorite is the Pres-n-Snap.
Insanely, this tool is not available through the normal Leather-Crafting suppliers. You can, however, find it online if you do a search with the name spelled as above or through upholstery-tool outlets. Mine came with the parts for setting snaps and grommets for about $150.00. It works well with the Tandy Line 24 snaps and, in my opinion, was worth every penny.
For the Segma snaps, the drive-tools are adequate. They can be tricky nonetheless. My two main bits of advice are:
1) Focus your attention on the tool rather than the mallet, the project or your hand. Keeping this tool aligned vertically is critical.
2) Do not over-set the snap. Two or three firm strikes of the mallet should be sufficient. Over-setting will ruin the snap.
I hope this information is helpful!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Earth Medallions for July

I've finally managed to get pictures taken of my newest Earth Medallions and have posted most of them to my Etsy shop with a few on my website as well.
There are some real stunners in this batch following another trip to my favorite local rock & bead store, Nawbin of Traverse City.
I got more of that delicious Lizard Stone Jasper I discovered just recently -- I love this cool green stone! It appeals to the Earth-child in me on a number of levels.
Also, my-oh-my, look what Karl had for me!

At first I thought these were the most distinctive Crazy Lace Agate cabochons I had ever seen, but no. Karl calls this Lapis-Laced Onyx.

White Onyx with occlusions of Lapis Lazuli. Breathtaking, literally - I actually gasped when he showed these to me.
Most of these pictures are linked to the listings on Etsy where you'll find info on size and a few more pictures. (Sorry - the horizontal Lizard Stone pendant is no longer available)
There are also some other new pendants -- too many to fit into this post.
Of course, as always, I need to get back to work!
I've said it before; so many stones, so little time!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Lake Michigan

I spent a beautiful evening on the Leelanau Peninsula shore of Lake Michigan.
The sky was colored like abalone shell and alive with fast-moving clouds and showers, the surf was pounding.
Almost as big as the State of West Virginia, this inland sea is the only one of the five Great Lakes located entirely within the US borders.
North and South Manitou Islands to the left as I look westward, North Fox dotting the horizon on the right. Further away than the eye can see is Wisconsin.
This is the location my daughter and her fiance have chosen for their upcoming wedding; we were there taking measurements and pictures, then walking the beach and doing some rock-hounding. We even found a few small Petoskey Stones!
Here are a few of my favorites from among the dozens of pictures I took.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pow Wow Clothing Done Right

If you participate in powwows in the Great Lakes Area or the Ohio Valley, chances are very good that you know Sharon Denson either personally or by her wares.
Countless people dance in outfits that include work from her talented hands. If you dance in the circle and you don't own one of her shirts or skirts, I can say with confidence that you've danced next to someone who does.
Sharon and her husband Bill are very active in the community, having both participated in and headed up powwow committees.
Bill is a constant source of information and assistance to all, and a wonderful foil for his no-nonsense wife!
Their booth draws you in with the vibrant colors of multiple racks of Sharon's top-quality clothing , but often people wind up staying for the conversation and laughter. Few people tell a joke better than Bill and few people take a joke better than Sharon.

These are truly special people; valued friends in my life, but I digress... the clothing is the thing!
Sharon is a professional seamstress with decades of experience and expertise. Her designs are elegant with attention paid to detail and the traditions of the area.
The colors and patterns of her cloth are powwow-perfect and unlike anything I've ever seen in any fabric store.
The only downside to Sharon's clothing has been that you had to see her at a powwow to purchase her wares. Well, that has changed...
I am delighted to announce that Sharon Denson now has an Internet presence. She is selling her wonderful dresses, skirts, blouses and ribbon shirts on Etsy. You can find her shop at
You can also click on any of these pictures to go to the respective listings in her shop.
I personally recommend her work highly and without reservation!