If you need a beautiful leather cuff bracelet, vase or piece of wall art, Claire Renaud is your girl.
The Derry resident is the unofficial leather lady in the New Hampshire art scene — she’s a juried member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen for both leather and fiber, and she regularly teaches leather craft workshops at places like Studio 550 in Manchester and the Bead Bush Studio in Deerfield.
The leather fanaticism began about five years ago, when her son, a minimalist runner, requested that she construct something for him to tie to the bottom of his feet. They went to her costume warehouse, and she made him a pair of “shoes.” When she was through, the leftovers caught her eye.
“There were scraps of leather on the floor. I thought it looked so pretty — just the shape of it, the scrap, looked like a cuff, so I picked it up and started stitching on it,” Renaud said during an interview at her Derry home studio. “I just loved working with the leather, and I’ve never stopped.”
Her leathery art consists of new and upcycled work. For some items, she practices an ancient technique called Cuir Bouilli, which is used in constructing leather baskets and leather cuff bracelets. She demonstrated the technique during the visit, dipping a recently made bracelet in boiling water to harden it.
Between her artisan work and her full-time theatrical Derry costume business, The Costume Gallery, Renaud has found time to up her resume a few more notches. Her first try at leather wall art hangs at the Cask & Vine in Derry and is comprised of leather stretched, dyed and woven around scavenged scraps of metal. Her work has just been taken by the Currier Museum of Art’s gift shop, and her website details a new offering for hopeful artists: cuff-making parties.
Like a paint party meets Tupperware, these at-home events are less complex than her workshops through the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen — she cuts the cuff for you beforehand, and if there’s no socializing or drinking involved, these bracelets can take as little as 20 minutes to make. (It’s true; during half of the interview, we cut, carved, boiled, dyed and shaped what would become a blue cuff.)
Her newest leather clothing includes steampunk-esque, upcycled cuffs and hand-carved leather shoes, made with the help of Molly Grant-Mathews at the Cordwainer Shop in Deerfield. She wore them the day of the interview.
“Aren’t they awesome?” she said, tilting her foot to show off the design, then taking off her shoe to reveal the stitching inside its sole.
They were light brown with intricately carved detail.
“For Christmas, my husband got me in a leather shoe-making workshop. [The instructor] and I hit it off instantly. I’m working as an apprentice there now. It’s such an incredible process. … And if you keep them up, they’ll last years and years and years.”
Renaud has spent the past 35 years working as a theatrical costume maker, and she’s been a sewer for as long as her foot could reach the pedal.
“I just always have to be making something,” she said. “I’m from a big family. I have four brothers, 11 sisters, and so there are 16 of us. All of my siblings are incredibly talented, and I’m the baby girl. I just grew up wanting to do what they did.”
For her family, there’s only a slight downside to her love of sewing costumes and leather art.
“My husband’s pants were in here [her studio] for two months. They just needed a button,” Renaud said, her voice lowering almost to a whisper. “I’ve got his last season softball pants tucked away in the corner. They just need a hem. That would take me, like, 2 minutes to do! But that’s how it is. They say the cobbler’s children have no shoes? It’s true.”