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Lagunans Carrie Rae Woodburn and Sue Winner present pieces made from leather at Sawdust Art Festival and beyond.

By Stefanee Freedman


Ancient people used leather for everything from garments and accessories to canvases, musical instruments and household furnishings, and the creativity surrounding this medium has continued to inspire modern-day artists as well. Longtime Laguna residents Carrie Rae Woodburn and Sue Winner regularly show their wearable work at Sawdust Art Festival, with Woodburn producing one-of-a-kind garments and accessories made from animal hide that she sources from the Midwest and Winner turning vintage items into modern art. Read on to discover more about their leathercrafting.


Spirit & Sustainability

Carrie Rae Woodburn’s fascination with leather art started while spending time with her husband—Andrew Soliz, who owns Tatankamani Woodworks here in town—on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. According to Woodburn, she was heavily influenced by her time there, and her husband taught her the ways of Native American leathermaking before she branched out further in the medium. “I often hear the beat of the drum while remembering songs of ceremony in my heart as I work,” Woodburn notes.

Her journey as an artist started when she moved from Los Angeles to Laguna in 1989, purchasing a 100-year-old cottage in Wood’s Cove; she now lives in Bluebird Canyon. “Laguna Beach is an extraordinarily creative place,” Woodburn says. “I immediately felt different here. The distinction was a desire to create with my own two hands.”

Carrie Rae Woodburn_courtesy of Sawdust Art Fesitval
Carrie Raw Woodburn uses ethically sourced animal hides from the Midwest in her pieces. | Photo by Sawdust Art Festival

In 2012, she started experimenting with painting, though she had never taken a class for it. Later, she was drawn to the art of leatherwork, which has been her medium of choice for over 10 years, now created under the moniker C. Rae Leather Designs.

“I do not pattern, as I enjoy the process of receiving inspiration from the material as it sits in my hands,” she notes. “I think this is why I find leather to be so compelling. … It is very much alive with a wild and natural energy. It informs me of what it wants to be.”

Woodburn says she is most influenced by the work of Ruth Asawa, a wire sculptor who believed that the simplest objects become art when we draw from our life, nature and our personal passions.

Cow satchel_Carrie Rae Woodburn
A cow satchel created by Woodburn | Photo by Carrie Rae Woodburn

“What I appreciate most is the way in which she approached any medium from a place of curiosity and delight,” Woodburn adds. “This is the muscle I have built with my art: Always be curious and delight in the outcome. Especially when it is not what you expected it to be.”

When it comes to leathercrafting, Woodburn begins with full hides. She prefers a freehand stitch over prepunch, which makes her work unique from most other leather artists working with handstitching. She works primarily with elk, deer and bison hides, which are sourced from the Midwest through wild ethical hunting practices.

“My first step is an offering—a prayerful blessing to Great Spirit for the life the animal gave, with a hope that we as a species will learn to walk more softly and sustainably on the earth in harmony with all things,” Woodburn explains. “I like to imagine the generations my pieces will be passed down to, which is a lovely form of sustainability, and my hope for each piece is … [that it lives] on as an heirloom, which I trust will never end up in a landfill.”

fanny pack_Carrie Rae Woodburn
One of Woodburn’s leather fanny packs | Photo by Carrie Rae Woodburn

Woodburn received her first break as an artist when she applied to show her paintings at Winter Fantasy in 2013. “My entire life was recontextualized with the possibility of making a living as an artist,” she notes. Woodburn was accepted into Sawdust Art Festival’s summer show the following year and has been an exhibitor there ever since.

In addition to showing at both Sawdust Art Festival and Winter Fantasy, Woodburn plans to open her Laguna Canyon leather studio to the public this spring as well; until then, it is open by appointment only.

C. Rae Leather Designs



Wearable Wares

Sue Winner always knew she was the creative type. “I became an artist shortly after I stopped eating my crayons, [at] around 3 years old,” she jokes. At 16 years old, she was already exploring her style and creativity through work as an interior designer and she went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Mount Mary College (now Mount Mary University) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Since then, Winner has had a hand in many different mediums, from painting and ceramics to clothing, jewelry and leatherwork. She uses antique and vintage textiles, linens and leather from around the world to craft unique, wearable pieces as part of her clothing line, Exotic Resurrection.

Sue Winner_no credit needed
Sue Winner repurposes leather clothing.

“The fine craftsmanship of vintage and antique textile creators inspire[s] my designs,” Winner says. “Each fabric piece speaks to me by telling me how it should be used in my clothing designs. All my pieces are one-of-a-kind designs, [as] I believe in the beauty of recycling [vintage clothing]. … I wish to give honor to these past craftspeople by bringing their work into the light once again.”

At Winner’s home, she and her husband, Mark—a ceramic artist—each have a studio, and the duo share a booth under the eucalyptus trees at Sawdust Art Festival, where Winner has been showing her work for more than 20 years. It is there that she sells her original, limited edition designs: hand-painted clothing, vintage upcycled jackets, silk scarf tops, belts and other accessories as well as ceramic sculptures, cards, illustrations and prints of her original art (alongside Mark’s crystalline ceramics).

thumbnail_image3 Clothing by Winner in a Sawdust fashion show
Clothing by Winner in a Sawdust fashion show

When starting a new project, Winner says she opens her imagination and lets the clothing’s shape, texture or drape tell her what type of piece to create. They are then handsewed and, often, painted or restored as well.

Recently, she repurposed a 1970s jacket that combined leather and crocheted elements into a red leather jumpsuit, even adding a beaded silk pocket. She also transformed pink vintage leather pants from the ’80s, altering the sides and waistband as well as adding pink lace, silver crystals and sequin detailing. Both were on full display at the festival: “Our Sawdust fashion shows, held each summer, are … [very] entertaining,” she says.

image4_credit Nancy Villere
Another fashion show look by Winner | Photo by Nancy Villere

Stop by this summer to peruse Winner’s work and snag some items for yourself, or visit her Etsy store to check for available products year-round.

Sue Winner



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