ART OR CRAFT? THE MAKERS CHIME IN! — Featured Maker: Kelly Ozrelic

(Kelly Ozrelic and her craft | Photos courtesy of Kelly Ozrelic)

“Louis Vuitton, Dooney and Bourke, Chanel, Coach — all huge forces within the fashion and leather goods industry. While their work is obviously beautiful and of excellent quality, I believe there are winds of change sweeping through the industry, allowing folks to recognize the value in purchasing from smaller, more humble makers instead of enormous companies that stamp their brand on every inch of their product.”

So writes Bend native Kelly Ozrelic, this month’s featured maker, in an email exchange we shared. Clearly opinionated on the matter and rightfully so, methinks, I decided to do a bit of research for myself. Upon visiting Chanel’s website and clicking on the first handbag I spotted, the $11,000 price tag nearly gave me “the big one,” as Fred Sanford of Sanford & Son fame used to often say when experiencing moments of extreme disbelief or shock. In terms of leather handbags specifically, one of Ozrelic’s specialties, the first ten Louis Vuitton ones I saw ranged from $2,300-$4,100. Much more reasonable, right?

Prices like these certainly suggest something more than finely made craft, at least to my mind. So are these art objects, albeit of a functional nature? Perhaps the better question is the following: To what extent does price and brand determine our perception of what is construed as art or craft? As we all well know, in the world of fashion design, brand is everything, and well established designer brands like the ones cited above seem to know no limits in terms of what they can charge for their luxury wares. So where does a “more humble” maker like Ozrelic, who makes exquisite leather goods, fit into this schema? Below, Kelly offers keen insights into her work and this discussion.

ME: Describe your art / craft.

KELLY: I am a seamstress of 21 years working primarily with animal leather for the past five years. I design and sew purses, wallets and totes. I’m grateful to have a leather source right here in town at Maverick Leather. They carry American and Italian hides from numerous animals, but I generally stick to cow and buffalo. I’m uncomfortable using chromium tanned hides due to the process’ environmental and health impact, so I opt for vegetable tanned hides. I find it essential to be able to look over every detail of each hide. This includes the weight, rigidity, texture, possibility of dye transfer and scent. It would be impossible for me to do this work without being able to see the hides in person! When I began exploring the craft of leatherworking in 2016, it was because I disliked the heavily embellished leather goods I saw at shops around town and wanted a more elegant, understated everyday bag. My design philosophy is very much “less is more,” and my pieces are simple, functional and made to last.

ME: Your use of the term “design” is so pertinent to our discussion. It brings to mind the words of an accomplished landscape painter friend of mine who always professed the importance of design to his workshop participants. He stressed how one designs a composition, even moving a rather fixed and essential element like a tree from here to there in order to serve the overall design of the painting. It’s an important word, one that seems to apply to so many aspects of our lives, from purses and paintings to landscapes and cities.

ME: Do you consider your work art or craft?

KELLY: I consider my work craft. Many years of sewing experience created the foundation for working with leather, but the material itself is a bit of a different beast! A lot of research and trial and error was needed before I truly felt confident in my ability to select hides, to understand the differences in preparation and construction and to feel proud of the finished result. This is a craft that I continue to learn and grow from whether that be with a new tool, an edge finishing cream, or simply realizing that I need to hammer the hell out of a seam to get it to lay flat. It’s an ongoing education.

ME: How does your work address artistic concerns, like those that a painter or sculptor must consider (form, composition, color, value, texture)?

KELLY: This question is quite thought provoking! At the start of each piece, visual balance and practical function are always at the top of the list. I consider the proportions of each individual component, such as the width, height and depth of the body of the piece and how that will determine the width and length of the straps, size of pockets, etc. Pocket and hardware placement inform the composition, and while there are infinite colors of leather available, I find that I gravitate towards more traditional, subdued hues: warm chestnut, gunmetal black, the occasional green, gold and blue. Texture is a fun element to play with in leather. For example, a matte hide can give a piece a more rustic, cowboy vibe whereas a shiny hide can provide a luxurious, sophisticated quality.

ME: What is your opinion on the arts / crafts distinction?

KELLY: This is a great question too! My opinion is that art can be purely for art’s sake, with its sole function being beauty or provocation. Craft, on the other hand, should have a practical function. I would never want one of my pieces to be considered so precious that it just sat in a closet or was displayed as a luxury item on a shelf, untouched. I want it to be used and loved every day, and to develop scratches, stains, patina.

ME: I really appreciate this last statement, Kelly! There is something special about a finely crafted object that enters the practice of everyday life. Its use and wear are signs of its character that also indicate something of the person who owns it. Once the object leaves the hands of its maker and enters the public sphere, it takes on a life of its own, and that is to be celebrated!

KELLY: I couldn’t agree more!

To view the exquisite work of Kelly Ozrelic, please visit The Workhouse in Bend at 50 SE Scott St., #6, open seven days a week from 10am-6pm. You may also view her work online at theworkhousebend.com/pages/kelly-ozrelic or on Instagram @fourthchildcreative.

theworkhousebend.com/pages/kelly-ozrelic

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