This is a small sampling of what Keri has created. The coat is based on the Naskapi Hunting coats of the 17th and 18th century. It is made from brain tanned deer and elk, 100 % real sinew sewn, and hand painted using earth pigments mixed with egg whites. She used sharpened sticks for brushes, and has over 600 hours in the coat.
Keri answered a few questions for me about her work.
How long have you been creating your art? – I started working with leather when I was about 9 years old. I had read a bunch of books about mountain men and I wanted a buckskin shirt. Santa didn’t know where to get one of those, so I told my dad, “let’s just make one ourselves.“ So I collected deer hides from neighbors that hunted and I researched some natural ways to tan the hides. My first hide was a complete failure. It is just a piece of rawhide and I still have it. I made it into a quiver. The next method utilized ivory soap. I got four hides tanned over three years and by the 7th grade I made my first shirt. But it was a bit stiff and I out grew it quickly. So I continued to save up hides annually in our freezer. I came across a little book on how to brain tan when I was in high school/college. During my sophomore year of college, my dad was diagnosed with colon cancer. So I came home from school to be with him and help take care of our farm. During that time, I brain tanned all 14 hides and I made a shirt and pair of pants. I made it as authentic as I knew how. I hand twisted the fringe and beaded the neck flap with size 8/0 pony beads. Later that year my father passed away, but my greatest accomplishment was completing the shirt and pants before he died. It was a lifelong journey that began when I was in the fourth grade and was finally completed when I was 20, a sophomore in college, and it was something I got to share with my dad.
Why did you choose your particular medium? – I work exclusively with brain tan or bark tan/ vegetable tanned leathers. I just believe that for too many years Hollywood has dictated to us what the old west looked like, and I want to set the record straight. In addition, brain tanned leather is uniquely American. George Washington had our first Revolutionary War troops issued buckskin shirts , pants, and moccasins, as our first continental uniform. Later it was one of our first exports back to Europe after the war. Why should we import leather now from China or Europe to depict our heritage? Brain tanned leather is superior in every way to commercially tanned leather. It breathes better, it can be washed, it is more durable, it is 100% chemical free, and it is American made!
What do you consider your greatest achievement? – Completing the buckskin shirt and pants for my dad to see.
What awards have you won? – I won numerous awards in 4-H, but last year I won honorable mention in the Art to Wear category at the Western Design Conference in Jackson, WY 2010.
Do you have a funny story related to your work? – Many. Tanning lends itself to all sorts of interesting experiences. Looking back, I’m not sure how many 9 year old girls fleshed and scraped deer hides by themselves. I’m sure my mother wondered just how I would turn out.
Are you working on something new? – I’m getting ready to attempt moose hair embroidery. I’ve always wanted to try that. I’ve done quill work, so I’m assuming it will be similar.
Please visit Keri’s great website www.windrivertrading.com