Next up in our Behind the Brand series is our friend, Rachel Freer-Waters. She is an artist, conservationist, and adventurer who resides in Flagstaff, Arizona. We’ve been buddies since we worked at Nordstrom together in 2001 where we would make up fake departments to oversee (ie. blanket department, sweaters only department). She is one of the most clever and funny ladies I am lucky enough to know. My memories of our friendship are full of adventure; going to White Stripes concerts, trying on fake names at parties, and accidentally attending a nudist movie theater.
Aside from being a subtle comic, Rachel is a true conservationist and has worked with museums all over the United States doing conservation work. She was the first person I knew to carry a reusable water bottle and canvas shopping bag. Every time I talk to her she is off on a hike or archeological dig or conservationist job. She is enthusiastic upcycler, finding ways to reuse and recycle materials into beautiful handmade goods.
Rachel has always been a big supporter of our Tradlands journey. You’ll see below that she is wearing a few pieces from our Fall 2013 line and she was one of our first orders when our website launched. I’ve been grateful to have her support since the start. Get to know one of my favorite people by reading below.
(Rachel stylin’ a Hermes ensemble in her Tradlands EMB jacket.)
What is your background?
I am a conservator, but I have a background in fine arts and archaeology and craft. I have worked with museums all over the United States doing conservation and installation, but the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, AZ picked me up full time about 6 months ago. I have to commute from Flagstaff, though, where my husband and I bought a 1930’s house on a hillside. Conservation positions are not common, so it is important to be flexible and learn new things, which is why my background is so diverse. The more you know about materials, processes, and techniques, the better you will be at responding to the strange things that can come up working with museums. For example, we lived in El Paso, Texas for a couple years where I apprenticed at Rocketbuster Boots and learned about leather working and boot assembly. When we lived in remote northern California, I learned how to sew on industrial machines and make corsets.
Why did you start your website?
My professional website: so institutions and individuals can check out my experience. I also have an Etsy shop to sell some of the things I make on my industrial sewing machine. I have abandoned my blog since starting work full time.
Where can we find you online?
My professional website is freerwaterspreservation.com, and I post leather objects on etsy.com as Leathery, when I have time.
(Rachel working at the Women Who Rock exhibit in her Tradlands flannel.)
What’s your favorite blog to read online?
I was a regular reader of various blogs when I had a blog, but then I felt like I was either living through other people’s lives or being shown things that made me want more stuff. But, at that time, my life was very isolated. I like to stumble upon blogs that relate to what I am looking for or interested in learning about at the moment, rather than having one blog I follow, because there are so many talented people out there with great things to say.
What’s your favorite magazine that you recommend?
What is one thing every woman or man should own?
A sewing machine. Preferably human powered.
What is the coolest thing you’ve ever bought for under $50?
I wish I had something cooler to say, but I love my insulated Klean Kanteen. They never get gross.
What do you want for your birthday?
To stay in the suite at Arcosanti ($100/night), then do a really intense hike.
If you were to climb Mount Everest and be stranded at base camp for 2 months, what is one thing you could not live without/would have to bring with you?
My husband told me to say “My husband!”
(Rachel and her husband, Caleb, at Grand Canyon.)
What music is on your iPod right now?
Its not on my iPod, but I am really into the Arcade Fire score from the movie Her. I am also listening to Allo Darlin’.
If we came to your house for dinner, what would you serve us?
Probably black bean sweet potato enchiladas with raw avocado chocolate fudge (separately).
Who is your favorite fashion icon?
I love that Zooey Deschanel keeps up the classic vintage look.
Who is your favorite artist?
Alex Katz landscape paintings and Turrell Skyspaces.
(From Turrell’s Skyspaces: Air Apparent, 2012)
What’s one movie everyone needs to watch?
Harold and Maude
You travel a lot. Where’s the greatest place you’ve ever been?
I’m no hippie, but Breitenbush Hot Springs in the snow is the best. It is so amazing to be sitting in a natural hot pool in the snow.
If you were told you could only drive one car for the rest of your life, but it could be any car you wanted, at no cost, what would it be?
I love my VW TDI Golf, but I really like the new TDI Beetles.
What products are you currently digging that are in your closet?
Calf-length skirts with pockets.
What is one book that everyone should read?
The Bridge of San Luis Red by Thornton Wilder
What kind of story are you looking to tell when someone visits your website?
I do things!
Describe the funniest moment you have had in your travels?
That time some lady friends and I went to see Nude on the Moon at the Alamo Draft house was pretty funny – the ad said “come nude and get in for free,” but we didn’t take that seriously. Needless to say, we were the only clothed people in there. Some naked guys came to sit with us with the intentions of making us uncomfortable, but I just ended up eating their French fries.
(Poster for Nude on the Moon.)
Where do you work out of?
I am working at the Musical Instrument Museum full time right now, but when I contract I work from home or a small studio in Flagstaff, AZ. My industrial sewing machine is at my friend’s house, so I go there to sew.
Who inspires you today?
The pro-choice protesters in Spain, pelting Cardinals with lace panties.
What places inspire you?
Any place old, anything made with real materials, particularly rocks. I am obsessed with dwellings incorporating large stones as walls.
In the places you’ve traveled, what’s the greatest wonder you’ve seen?
The Grand Canyon from the rim always blows my mind, and it is a mere two hours from me right now!
(Things for sale at Leathery.)
What’s the best travel experience you ever had?
Mexico City. So much fun.
Keep working full time for the Musical Instrument Museum until I can’t possibly make the commute any longer, at which point I will be taking on small jobs, traveling to install exhibits, sewing and making things, and will hopefully take in as many foster kids as my husband will allow.
Where are you traveling to next?
I hope to make it back to far West Texas to visit friends and the Chihuahuan Desert for New Years.
When someone sees your work, what impression do you want them to have?
I hope, when they see my conservation work, they think “how tedious.” My creative ventures, I try not to wonder what people think because it is not about that. It is about making things.
Where do you see your work in 5 years?
I hope to have a better portfolio of my craft work, and to continue to travel and assist museums all over!
(Rachel at work at the Musical Instrument Museum.)
Thank you to my wonderful friend, Rachel, for taking part in this interview and for getting me hooked on the Her soundtrack. Love you to the nude on the moon and back!