Belen artist’s work is like second skin

Written by Shirl Sazynski
Valencia County News-Bulletin  
Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Bells clink gently as you enter. You duck instinctively coming through the adobe entrance of Wild Moon Boutique, adjust to the filtered sunlight drifting in from the deep window facing the Old Town courtyard. Wool carpets muffle your steps. Dark, ponderous old rafters support the flat roof. An elfin-sized, antique wooden door begs curiosity from beside the old-fashioned rounded fireplace.

You feel like you’ve stepped into some secret place, full of magic, which does not quite exist in this time. A prismatic panoply of hand-woven textiles and leather aged so well it has a satiny patina greets you.

Turquoise ― turquoise everywhere. Turquoise walls, turquoise leather. Turquoise belts, turquoise necklaces, dyed turquoise threads. Then an aroma, elusive, sweet, organic of warm, gently faded vintage fabrics, soft deer and elk hides. Sweet grass, feather, furs. You can’t help but notice the sample dresses are all the same size, and hold the memory of a petite woman’s form, as if you’ve discovered some fantastical personal wardrobe.

This is the showroom. The real magic happens backstage, behind the wood-and-paper Japanese shoji screen.

Leather apparel artist Sally Moon has an easy, natural laugh and a vivacious spirit that spills over into her fashions, mixing a love of life with acceptance of your own body. To her, it’s all a part of “women being their true authentic selves.” She tells prospective clients, “Love the one you’re with. Love your body as it is because you’re not going to change it,” and advocates an “Attitude of Gratitude not Saditude” through B.R.A. (Breasts Raised Aloft!).

“A good supporting bra will take off ten years and ten pounds instantly,” Moon said.

Moon also brings a startling blend of humility and boldness to her work. A self-taught artist, she took sewing classes in her youth, but did not move into making original pieces until her mid-50’s.

“I never thought of myself as an artist because I can’t draw or paint,” she said. “I just made things.”
[Sally Moon wears one of her handmade deerskin skirts and a handwoven vintage Guatemalan blouse called a “huipil” (wee-peel). She gently reworks the garments for taller Americans. ]

Sally Moon wears one of her handmade deerskin skirts and a handwoven vintage Guatemalan blouse called a “huipil” (wee-peel). She gently reworks the garments for taller Americans.

A string of hurdles and surprises her since changed her ideas on that. Over the years, Moon has discovered a latent talent for working with the natural textures of leather and matching dye and tanning colors, sight unseen, to a piece.

Early in her art career, she sent photos of her work to a Simplicity Patterns contest, and got turned down without a response, but that didn’t stop her.

Soon after, she garnered a “Best In Show” and “Best Ensemble” award at the second annual Wearable Art Fashion Show in North Fork, Calif., and has been invited to venues in California, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado ranging from alternative bridal shows to Native American fashion events. A gallery in Colorado even contacted her for examples of vintage South American textiles to exhibit alongside documentary photos.

Her original accessories and articles of clothing are made exclusively out of deer and elk hide, in part for what she calls the material’s “luscious leather” feel ― an ultra-soft, body-conforming nature, an ability to age beautifully, gaining a patina ― and the ease of working with thinner, strong materials.

Moon says that before even attempting to design a piece, she “lets the leather talk to her” ― taking cues from its general shape and grain and the way it wants to lie, in how she will incorporate each section of hide into a finished piece, allowing the ragged edges of each piece of leather to remain as they came to her.

Some pieces wait weeks for another hide with a matching shape and exact blend of color.

“Everything has a life to it, even non-sentient things. It’s important to respect that,” she said.

The bulk of her sales come from custom work cut to conform in a flattering style to each client’s measurements ― all of the leather pieces on display in the shop are her own personal clothing “prototypes.” She says she hates the bulkiness and weight of commercial western-style fringe and prefers to manufacture her own lightweight “fettucine fringe.”

She also customizes existing leather pieces, which she calls a “Wild Re-Design” by adding solid silver buffalo-nickle buttons and bead work acquired from local crafters.

For her, the best part of her job is the design process, and getting to see the finished product after a journey of up to 80 hours for a full-length original coat and 17 hours for a bag. Creating an elk jacket may take up the three months, and it’s reflected in the ticket price, starting at $1,500. If that’s too rich for your blood, there are still plenty of smaller, accessible pieces like bags and sashes, as well as vintage textiles, and Moon regularly offers bag-crafting classes with all materials included.

Though Moon’s family has roots in Albuquerque going back six generations, she arrived in New Mexico in 1995 after a lifetime in Los Angeles. Another branch of her family has traceable Mexika, or Aztec roots from northern Mexico, which Moon celebrates as a member of traditional Aztec dance groups and drumming circles.

Moon also imports striking textiles from Central and South America ― brilliant Guatemalan cotton garments and embroideries and Andean wool belts and shawls.

Some are antiques, which she repairs and gently modifies for larger Western wearers; others are more recent sacred items used by the indigenous “Q’eros” or shamans, which have finished their turn for religious use.

The rest are simply beautiful utilitarian bags and shawls. One of her most prized possessions is a finely woven antique indigo sash, from which she says she routinely gets compliments from Guatemalan women living or traveling in New Mexico. All of the pieces are hand-woven, and many are dyed using natural pigments and traditional methods.

Sally Moon will officially open Wild Moon Boutique at 206 1/2 San Felipe, Patio Market shop No. 4, in Old Town Albuquerque on Tuesday, September 1.

There will be an opening blessing ceremony featuring traditional Mexihca dances and drumming in the courtyard outside at 6 p.m.

She is also offering a deerskin medicine-bag making workshop hosted by Colleen Aycock on Sunday, August 30, from 1 to 4:30 p.m. The cost is $65 with a minimum of six participants. She asks that you RSVP if you plan to attend.

For more information, call (505) 247-2475 or 610-8387 or write .

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