Halifax: Artist Jessica Weatherhead swaps canvas for leather

When I first held a Jessica Weatherhead bag (they woo themselves right into your arms, I swear), I knew it was something way more than a purse. With its buttery soft leather, its cutout pattern that flowed into a white shell wrapped in a twisted net, its braided rope-like strap and its blue silk lining, this beautiful bag looked like something straight out of an underwater paradise. I knew the story behind this bit of whimsical beauty, and the designer herself, had to be anything but boring.

And I wasn’t wrong.

For Weatherhead, her purses aren’t the product of technical know-how and preconceived construction. Instead, they’re an inspired creation that starts with the right set of materials and evolves naturally into a work of art.

She’ll often begin with scraps of leather, making as few cuts as possible to maintain the hide’s raw edge and then folds the pieces this way and that until she finds something that works with the skin’s natural characteristics. Seaweed Weatherhead found on local shores inspired the cut-out pattern on the purse I fell for, which was completed with a shell brought home from the beach. Each of the bags, ripe with bits and baubles heavy in personal history, tells a story and, like I predicted, is so much more than a purse.

The 24-year-old artist, who started in painting, stumbled on bag-making during a cross-Canada trek home from Alberta. When Weatherhead met a woman in Winnipeg who made moccasins, the seed was planted and when her boyfriend soon after equipped her with a leather factory membership and tools for her birthday, she eagerly explored beyond her beloved painting and began working with skins.

Unlike the oil paintings she’s been selling for years, these art pieces will be hanging off shoulders, wrists and elbows and walking the city’s streets, rather than tucked into homes and cafés. But for Weatherhead, it’s all the same—it’s part of the passive relationship between artist and viewer that makes the whole process worthwhile.

“It’s my way of connecting with people,” she says of her art: paintings, purses and all. “I put it out there and I have faith that people are appreciating it and understanding what I was trying to convey.”

Jessica Weatherhead’s bags can be purchased at Halifax’s The Clothes Horse (1530 Queen St., 902-483-7067) or directly from the artist by visiting jessweatherhead.com.

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