Meredith Connors studio is located in a former store front in West Oakland, with the BART train rumbling away nearby. Her workshop is the stuff of dreams. A big work table runs down the middle, industrial sewing machines line one wall, with leather and rolls of fabric stashed everywhere.
Her first craft was ceramics. She studied Japanese and Ceramics in college, but after school found that working with clay wasn’t as accessible to her anymore. While volunteering at an art center for the homeless, another ceramicist taught her book binding and something clicked. She loved sewing and working with leather, and found the finished product so satisfying.
Meredith came to her craft as a bag maker by way of a traumatic brain injury that shifted the course of her life. Unable to work for some time, she rethought her path and decided to apply to the Masters of Social Work Program at San Francisco State University. She needed a backpack to go back to school, so she made one with the leather bookbinding scraps she had on hand. Embracing a learn-as-you-go approach, she continued to explore this new craft.
As a social worker, she took trunks of scraps to home visits with kids. “They don’t want to talk -- they’ve just been through something terrible and you’re a stranger in their house.” But they did want to make. “When we use our hands to make something, we can open up.” Making became a place to be that wasn’t stressful, a refuge, and a way to heal.
Having recently left her county job, after seeing how the system fails the most vulnerable people, Meredith is working to establish a private practice for her social work. In the meantime, the work she does with her hands helps her get by. We touched on the challenges facing artists in the Bay Area. Meredith cites sky-high rents as the number one obstacle, “ninety percent of what I make from this just goes to paying rent.”
Meredith makes almost exclusively custom work. She thrives on the problem solving and creative thinking involved in filling these types of orders. Meredith’s work includes a variety of leather and canvas bags and backpacks, hand sewn veg-tan leather slippers, wallets, and a variety of small accessories. She strives to create zero waste, and even uses her leather scraps in weaving projects.
In the workshops she teaches in her studio, people who might not otherwise cross paths get a chance to bond. “A group of six totally different people can find common ground. We all need this. It can take any form, gardening, cooking, beekeeping, anything that gives you a reason to get out of bed.”