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Leather crafter loves the old ways and his new nontraditional career

Somewhere between a romantic and a salesman is Michael Nolan and his urge to get his leather business off the ground.

Nolan and his wife, Shannon, came to Powell from Portland, Oregon, in 2019. They helped Shannon’s aunt through the final stages of her life and decided to stay. Michael had been in middle management sales in the automotive industry, and Shannon was — and still is — an accountant.

For years, up until a serious shoulder injury made it impossible, Michael’s hobby had been blacksmithing.

“I’ve always had a penchant for old Americana,” Michael said. “I like to go back to Colonial times. There’s a certain confidence that comes with self-reliance.

“I love those times with: Need a tool, make a tool.”

When blacksmithing and the heavy lifting involved was out of the question, Michael fell back on making leather goods, another passion. The automotive industry eliminated his job, which forced Michael’s hand to finally form Gridwerk Trading Co.

Leather tool belts are hot sellers.

Custom designs and training at Dollywood    

Before the business was up and running at full speed, Michael had the opportunity to spend a summer at Dollywood with master leather crafter Glenn Donly before he retired after 32 years.

“No one had a bigger influence on me than Glenn,” Michael said. “He still had the ‘mountain man’ techniques, which I loved to learn.”

Wallets are popular items for Michael Nolen to make.

Michael said his custom designs set him apart from the other leather crafters.

“Some people will download a design off the internet and use that,” Michael said.

“Everything I do is from my own pattern. That helps me be able to do some custom work.”

Purses and other personal items make good gifts.

While his website, Facebook presence and Etsy site are driving some very good traffic, appearances at craft shows and other sales help to get the word out. Tote bags, wallets, purses and leather journals have been the big sellers.

Michael said after a Facebook post advertising the business, traffic to his Etsy site went up 2,569%.

And while you’re at it, pick up some Ugly Dog cookies    

After years of going off to work and punching a time clock, Michael is finally his own boss. A shop in the backyard is his domain to make the magic happen.

“I’ve had so many things happen that have allowed me to get to that point,” Michael said. “Not being in a traditional work role is nice.”

While her accounting duties are done remotely, Michael said his wife also has the entrepreneurial spirit. Hers has manifested itself with dog cookies.

Michael Nolen's work table shows the work he does regularly.

Shannon has established the foundation for Ugly Dog Cookies, and has plans for a launch.

“When we go to markets, the sales for the leather products and the dog cookies will be similar,” Michael said. “That convinced Shannon to give it a try.”

The basis for the cookie is a very simple recipe with no preservatives.

“There will be pumpkin and oats in one cookie,” Michael said. “That’s all, no salt, oils or anything. She’ll have peanut butter and applesauce. That will have eggs and oats with it, but that’s it.

Gridwerk Trading Co. logo

“It’s a recipe she has been using for years. Family members finally convinced her to try to market it.”

For more information on the leather products, go to gridwerk.com, or to the Gridwerk Trading Co. site on Etsy. Michael said the Ugly Dog Cookies Facebook page would be live soon.

Happy Thanksgiving!

WORDS OF FAITH

Decluttering our house, thoughts turn to justice

John Tirro, Shopper News

As I write, I’m up in Connecticut, visiting my mom and sister and her family, helping pack the last shelves of books in the house where I grew up. Dad passed eight months ago, and it’s not time to sell the house, but it’s close.

Each time I visit, the house is a little emptier, as Mom goes through treasures, deciding what stays, what goes to family or friends who might appreciate or benefit from a gift in love — a delicate bowl from an Acoma artist in New Mexico, a lamp, a clarinet — and what gets one last look and a trip to recycling or the trash.

John Tirro

Clearing one bookshelf, we found a huge, bound copy of Dad’s dissertation. That stays.  “Giovanni Spataro’s Choir Books in the Archive of San Petronio and Bologna” (I wonder how much Dad loved this obscure, Renaissance composer and how much it was simply a legit way to get a grant to live in Italy for a year — a question I’ll never get to ask, but either way my early memories include reading Thor comic books as a 4-year-old on the floor of an Italian villa. Pretty amazing.)

Various outdated travel brochures, pitch to the pile.

A “Happy Eighteenth Anniversary” sign I made out of a board with a hammer and chisel, not sure what to do with that, so I put it in a box, figuring Mom can decide sometime when I’m not looking.