Bodega’s Artisan’s Co-op a showcase for one-of-a-kind, handmade works
For Sonoma County artists like Angél Fiorito-Leddy, the Artisans’ Co-op in the historic village of Bodega is a treasured venue to share works with local residents and travelers from around the globe.
The modest two-room gallery houses a wide variety of artwork handcrafted by more than 50 Sonoma County artists and artisans. Fiorito-Leddy lives at Salmon Creek Beach, about 5 miles from the co-op. She makes sheepskin slippers and fine leather designs, including custom boots crafted to last for decades.
She’s been a member of the co-op for 20 years, joining when the showcase for local artists was just 3 years old. Her designs are on display with myriad works that highlight the vast talents of some of the county’s most creative people: jewelers, woodworkers, fiber and textile artists, painters, photographers, ceramicists and glassworkers like co-op president Jeanne Bosko.
“We’re very eclectic, so there’s something for everyone,” said wildlife and landscape photographer Francesca Scalpi, the co-op’s publicist. “If you look at the top sellers, it’s a mix of art from different types of artists.”
A resident of Jenner, Scalpi, like Fiorito-Leddy, is a full co-op member. They’re part of a core group of about a dozen artists who help run the gallery; others are consignment members who donate a portion of their sales to the co-op.
Fiorito-Leddy serves as vice president and assists with special events, like the upcoming Artisans Day reception, gallery sale, multi-artist raffles and artist demonstrations from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday. Visitors can watch artists at work and guests of all ages can participate in hands-on sessions making art.
Themed showcases like Artisans Day are held every few months to introduce artists to the community and visitors from around the world who stop by while heading to and from the coast. On a recent scorching-hot afternoon, those browsing the gallery included guests from Glen Ellen and as far away as Poland.
Many people are drawn to the rural village because of the classic 1963 Alfred Hitchcock horror-?thriller “The Birds,” filmed inland in Bodega and on the coast at Bodega Bay. Visitors often ask where they can find the white wooden church with the steeple shown in the film.
“It’s right there,” said jewelry artist Judy Pagnusat, who recently was staffing the register. She motioned to the front window, where there’s a clear view of the picturesque St. Teresa of Avila Catholic church on a nearby hilltop.
Pagnusat, who also designs the co-op’s attractive displays, regularly points visitors to the church, dedicated in 1862. Another iconic locale from the film, Potter School, which was built in 1873 and is now a private home, also is nearby.
About 80% of the gallery visitors are tourists from outside Sonoma County, including many from the Bay Area and Sacramento who return to check out the frequently changing marketplace. The guest book is like a geography notebook, listing towns and cities from near and far, many people leaving compliments about the quality and selection.
“There’s a lot of amazement about the talent here, and a lot of people are being inspired,” Fiorito-Leddy said. “There’s so much creativity in here.”
For the longtime artisan, the traffic of new and repeat visitors is a much-appreciated opportunity to sell her displayed works and gain clients for WindWalkers, her custom footwear and leather design business.
She’s been designing for 42 years, having gotten started as an apprentice to a master shoemaker while she studied tailoring and pattern-making during college in Eugene, Oregon. Although she’s displayed her slippers, sandals, shoes, boots, moccasins and accessories at festivals for many years - even dressing up for Renaissance fairs and other themed events - she’s mostly retired that aspect of her sales.
“It was fun, but I’m getting older,” said Fiorito-Leddy, 65. “I used to sell at local festivals, but I don’t have the energy anymore.” She does display her works (for adults, children and babies) at the Bodega Bay Community Farmers Market and runs her online business, but the Artisans’ Co-op is now her primary outlet.
Her washable designs feature American materials, from ultra-soft sheepskin slippers ranging from $82 to $92 that take a few hours to craft, to finely detailed, custom-made knee-high boots that require a week to complete. One pair, made from bison and featuring intricate leather appliques and multiple exquisite buttons costing $12 each, retails for about $1,000 and can last 30 years.
Her work is exacting and physically demanding, requiring squeezing, shaping, cutting and shaving through thick layers. “It’s fun. I love designing,” Fiorito-Leddy said. “You have to be tough to do it, and you have to love it.”