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Bodega’s Artisan’s Co-op a showcase for one-of-a-kind, handmade works

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If You Go

What: Artisans’ Co-op featuring unique, handmade works by more than 50 juried Sonoma County artists and artisans.

Where: 17175 Bodega Highway, Bodega.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Special event: Artisans Day, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday (Aug. 31). Reception and artist demonstrations, free art-making for all ages, gallery sale and raffles.

Information: 707-876-9830, artisansco-op.com

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. Aug. 31. 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.

If You Go

What: Artisans’ Co-op featuring unique, handmade works by more than 50 juried Sonoma County artists and artisans.

Where: 17175 Bodega Highway, Bodega.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Special event: Artisans Day, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday (Aug. 31). Reception and artist demonstrations, free art-making for all ages, gallery sale and raffles.

Information: 707-876-9830, artisansco-op.com

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.”

She also specializes in orthotic footwear, with clients including those who are paralyzed, missing toes or with plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of fibrous tissue along the bottom of the foot. Her apparel work includes vests; she handcrafted a Scottish warrior vest for the 1995 Mel Gibson film “Braveheart,” set in the late 13th century.

Hers in an Old World art, but she notes there’s been a resurgence in young people interested in the craft, including her niece, who apprenticed with her.

Ask the veteran artisan what she likes most about her work, and her reply is immediate: “Helping people. Customers come back and I get to know the whole family.”

Scalpi, the wildlife photographer, said co-op artists appreciate meeting their customers and sharing their backgrounds — particularly the craftspeople who work in rural locations. “For some artists, this is the only place they’re being seen,” she said.

The gallery is small enough that full-time members know enough about the other artists that they can answer questions for customers or share insights about their work.

“We try to make it where it’s not ostentatious, but it’s approachable,” Scalpi said.

Pagnusat enjoys explaining her jewelry designs, some featuring upcycled materials like finely detailed vintage flatware, and can answer questions and share stories about the handsome woodworks crafted by her husband, Jerry Pagnusat. Some of his boxes used to store keepsakes, jewelry or tea are made from discarded old-growth redwood and detailed with embossed copper, vintage 45 rpm records, wine corks or wild turkey feathers gathered near the couple’s homestead in Cotati.

Being involved with the co-op “has been phenomenal” for the couple, Judy Pagnusat said. Her husband has been asked to sign some of his pieces, and she loves having a showcase for her jewelry, including a thick clutch bracelet formed “from a pipe from the hardware store” and beautified through hammering and pounding and being given a colorful heat patina “by the patina gods,” she said, laughing about the process.

Visitors appreciate the one-of-a-kind finds at the co-op, she said. “A lot of people are striving for that uniqueness.”

Because so many guests are tourists, most artists include smaller, less expensive keepsake pieces for their displays. There are coastal inspirations, too: Christine Paschal’s earrings and pendants featuring genuine sand dollars and seashells; ocean scenes by artists including oil painter Carolyn Jarvis; small dishes featuring sea turtles by fused-glass artist Libby Kirk; and kelp baskets by Maralee Wisewomyn.

Wheel-thrown or hand-formed raku pottery works by artist Randy Snyder include a school of fish that are popular collectibles; each fish has a distinctive shape and finish. Several of the ceramic artists at the co-op were Snyder’s students at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts.

“The Birds” fans will find keepsakes, too. Postcards, greeting cards and magnets by Scalpi feature the famed schoolhouse and church, with a raven perched in the foreground — a reminder of the menacing birds that terrorized Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor and other cast members. Birds also can be found on pendants by hand-painted jewelry artist Zoe Good; pottery pieces by Marianne Jacobs; and colorful designs by Bosko, the co-op president and fused-glass artist.

The fiber arts selection is especially impressive, Scalpi said, with everything from hand-knit sweaters by Edie Nelson; woven apparel by Judy Fisher; and luxurious handspun yarn and raw wool from Starbuck Station Wools in Freestone, operated by shepherd Martha Cant, one of the co-op’s original members.

Visitors are sometimes surprised by the quality, creativity and variety of artwork “in a little town like Bodega,” Scalpi said.

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