Proudly Made: Odelae

Categories: Outdoor Living

Situated in the strait between Washington state and British Columbia, Orcas Island, WA is a natural haven, accessible only by ferry from the mainland. This quiet retreat is home to artist Erica Ekrem of Odelae, who makes hand-bound journals with covers of soft, raw-edge leather and found seashells. We were enchanted by Erica's serene images of her home, so when we caught up with her to chat about the bookbinding process, we couldn't resist sneaking in a few questions about island life.

terrain: Can you tell us a bit about life on Orcas Island? 

Erica: The island is a great place to connect with nature, and when I came here I felt called to be closer to the natural world. Orcas is home to beautiful forests and cedar groves, mossy rock cliffs, and gorgeous coastline; when I’m not working I love to spend time hiking and on the beach. It’s a wonderful, quiet place to dive into the inner realms and find creative inspiration. 

terrain: Have you always lived on Orcas Island? If not, how did you arrive there?

Erica: I grew up on the plains of South Dakota, and moved to Seattle to finish college in graphic design. That’s where I met my husband, who lived on Orcas Island.  It took a little while to settle there permanently—I moved back and forth a few times! There’s something of an acclimation period because the winters are very quiet, but in summer it’s really a destination and there are lots of visitors. 

terrain: Does living on the island have an influence on your work?

Erica: Absolutely. Living here inspires my work literally, in that I make journals bound with found shells from the coast—native butter clams as well as scallops and oysters. Orcas Island is also an inspiring place because there’s hardly any corporate presence; everything is local and homegrown. Since you’re not bombarded by signage and marketing all the time, a sense of authenticity and self really emerges. The rawness of the wilderness here is also inspiring, and I think my work follows its example. All of my tools and materials are inspired by the old world. Blades, rulers, hand punches, etc.—no machines or electrical equipment. I leave raw edges on the leather to maintain a rustic look.The only component I don’t make myself is the paper, which is sourced from a local maker in Bellingham, WA.

terrain: How did you start making journals? 

Erica: I learned to read when I was really young, and have always been an avid reader. My love of discovering the world through books inspired me to leave South Dakota and explore. When I got to college, one of my required courses was bookbinding. I found out that making books by hand—the sense of craftsmanship and tangible creation—really fed my spirit. My first binding projects incorporated the covers of vintage books; I loved the idea of reusing and reclaiming, reincarnating old materials with new life.

Photos courtesy of Satya Curcio (1,3,4) and Erica Ekrem (2,5,6).

To celebrate the Fourth of July, we’re saluting some of our favorite American makers with Proudly Made. See all of their stories here.

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