Pancake Rabbit: Leather, Glass by Mary Ellen Sisulak

Mary Ellen Sisulak of Turtle Ridge Gallery is renowned for her leatherwork, particularly her handmade embossed purses, satchels, and bags for which she uses custom made embossing tools. But she started her career in leather doing one of a kind, hand-carved designs, and this piece is a return to her roots.

The purse was inspired by a weeklong “Art Camp” held at the gallery last winter. “It was myself and several of the other artists and workers from the store. A bunch of creative minds trying new things and inspiring one another,” says Sisulak.

Sisulak shows her leather works, paintings, and fiber work at Turtle Ridge Gallery in Ellison Bay. She has owned and operated the gallery since 1984. Photo by Katie Sikora.

One of her colleagues taught the group to make glass beads, and they came to life as the eyes in the piece. The leather itself is vegetable tanned, carved and tooled by hand, but also formed like a relief or a tile.

“The piece is surprisingly dimensional,” says Sisulak, and the sunshine blue paint on the leather makes the piece come alive.

“There are some unusual new paints that have great luminosity, which is right up my alley because my paintings are all about iridescence. I’m fascinated with it – I saw a spider in my garden, and I wondered how nature made this sparkling surface,” she says.

Sisulak found playful subject matter for the series of three round purses:  rabbit (“shy and timid”), a rooster (“mean!”) and a turtle (“benevolent and dreamy”). But she was drawn to the graphic nature of the project, as well as the design. “I wanted the animal to float in ethereal space, and I chose the circle because it is such a simple, beautiful shape,” she says.

Like all of Sisulak’s leatherwork, the purse is functional, with a wrist strap and zipper close. “It would make a great evening bag,” she says, “but it also comes in a frame, so it can be a decorative piece as well.”

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