This interview was conducted by Michelle Genders and originally posted on the Rainbow Artists team blog here.
Let’s get to know Debbie Rodgers from Thunderrose. With her husband John, she makes and sells gestural leather bags with perfectly beaded details. Debbie opened up about each of the tasks that they undertake and life living in the desert.
Where do you live and how long have you lived there?
We live in Cornville Arizona. Cornville is a small community that is about 15 miles outside of Sedona Arizona. We have lived here around 25 years.
Can you describe the landscape of the place where you live?
We live in the desert. We are surrounded by mountains. The biggest one is called Mingus Mountain. I can see Mingus from my garden. It is a very beautiful mountain. When you go to Sedona you are surrounded by the Red Rock Mountains. Many people travel from all over the world to see Sedona.
What do you like most about where you live?
I love the mountains. I also love the winters. Where we live we don’t get much snow and ice. We get a sprinkle of snow maybe once a year if we are lucky twice. The winters are very mild.
What do you like least about where you live?
The summers for sure. We have triple digets in the summers. It makes it hard to even go outside. We pretty much go out in the mornings at sunrise and in the evening when the sun sets.
Tell me about the leather items, with beaded details, that you sell on etsy. How did you come to work with leather and beads?
I started beading probably 30 years ago. One day I was at a friend’s house and she had just got some seed beads. I was so inspired by these tiny, little, shiny, beautiful beads that I ordered some of my own and proceeded to make beaded earrings doing the brick stitch. I loved creating with them so much. I just kept wanting to learn more. I went into the peyote stitch where I beaded around fans and making key rings and beaded lighter covers. I love all the different colors of beads you can play with.
One thing led into the other. Beads and leather go great together. I started making rosettes and doing the lazy stitch (sewing beads directly to the leather). We started doing all this long before the internet. We have had stores, been in gallerys, and done art shows. I would have to say I think it was what we were meant to do. It kinda found us. John is very good at designing bags. He has created our handbag designs and is fantastic at working with people who want something specific made for their needs. So we, as a team, have many designs we work with now and none have really gone out of style. Some of our work is bohemian, gypsy, hippie and some is native, tribal. We also have worked with higher end clients making more contemporary styles.
Where do you make the items that you sell?
We work in our home.
What do you like most about working with leather and beads?
I love everything about working with leather and beads. They complement each other. When I sit down and create a beadwork, I know its home will be a beautiful handbag or medicine bag. So there is satisfaction in creating a beaded rosette and then going into creating a handmade leather bag to put it on. Everything is done by hand. The only time we use a machine is for our small machine sewn medicine bags. We also make sure the details of our bags are well done and finished giving it a very special look and feel.
What do is the hardest part about working with leather and beads?
Not all the hides are perfect. They have ruff places, scars, holes, blemishes and we never know what will come from the tanneries. Some hides come in almost perfect. So we work with what we receive. Sometimes that can be a little challenging. But over the years we have learned how to work with the hides. In contrast, the beads are pretty easy. But it is always good to be in the mood to bead or you might have more knots in the thread than usual.
What is your favourite tool, piece of equipment, or material to work with?
All leather, all beads. I love all my tools. They make what I do doable…….
I’m intrigued by the medicine bags that you sell, for example this wolf totem bag. Can you tell me a bit about wolf medicine?
Debbie: I think that if a person is attracted to wolf medicine they have had some kind of personal experience with that medicine, maybe a dream or vision and it wouldn’t be for me to say. I have made medicine bags with totems of all kinds for people from all over the world. Each person has their own story, their own medicine journey.
What would you carry in a medicine bag?
That is something I used to be asked when I did art shows. We have sold these bags to many people from all over the world. They would tell us: I need this for my favorite stone, crystal, carved fetish, to keep my wedding rings in while traveling or even the tooth fairy. Yes, the tooth fairy. I thought what a cute idea. Making losing a tooth an even more special event. I have used mine to keep a special feather, rock, medicine like sage or cedar in. You can make a special prayer and wear it or carry it with you reminding you of what your intent is. So medicine bags or amulet bags are totally multi purpose.
John and I have a lot of different sizes and kinds of medicine bags. Some are beaded some are plain, we make custom ones to fit the needs of our customer friends. Sometimes we put a turtle, bear claw or wolf totem on. I also do four direction beadwork with your colors where you like them. One of my favourite medicine bag’s has a beaded sunflower with double a cut fringe off the bottom of the bag and a 36 inch neck strap.
Can you tell me what it is like to work with dear skin as opposed to another type of skin?
I love working with all the different hides. They all have a different feel and texture.
How did you choose the name Thunderrose?
One day many years ago before we created this business John and I had 10 acres in the middle of nowhere where we were building a small cabin with our own hands and raising our children. I was sitting outside one day and the name Thunder Rose came to me. So we named our 10 acres Thunder Rose. Well, long story short the name carried over to our business.
Thank you so much Debbie. It was so interesting to read about your story. I hope I’ll be able to visit Sedona one day. It is stunning! How lucky for you and John to have found your calling and to be able to make a living from your home there. Good luck with all the things you have on at the moment and thanks again for all the hard work you’re doing for the ‘Rainbow artists‘.