A placid lake. A worn-soft, wooden handled oar dips silently in and out, sprinkling a small cascade of droplets across your toes as it arcs over, cutting through to balance the other side. The balance is calculated and rhythmic, denoting skill, patience, and discerning direction. Alone in this narrow, stretched vessel, you can feel it’s powerful, elegant shape glide beneath, unhurried, straight and true; the arrow of the water.
This image, if you’ve allowed your senses to paint it for you, is one in which the experience of a man-made product has yielded to it’s user a moment of serenity. Part beauty, part ordinary transportation in the wild, canoes are are carefully crafted for efficiency and beauty in motion. But they aren’t the only craft propelling art and utility into one.
Canoe Goods, created by Natalie Davis, began over seven years ago as a product line of leather goods, intended to evoke the peace and beauty she’s experienced living in the Southwest. She’s what we’ve decidedly dubbed a “beautilitarian,” bringing both functionality and artistry in equal parts to her leatherwork. While her catalogue boasts of leather bags, wallets, home goods, even her own perfume scent, each piece embodies this craftswoman’s love for details, precision, and the power of her design to bring it’s user a “calm, quiet, peace; like when you’re out in a canoe.”
Long before Canoe began, Natalie and her husband were Californians, living in Oakland during the swell of handmade creatives that resulted in the makers’ movement of today. While working as an art editor for a scientific journal, she decided to launch her first product line called Miss Natalie, a collection of children’s accessories with a “folk, Swedish, modern feel.” “I was just exploring ideas and letting myself wander,” she tells us, implementing techniques like screen printing, hand painting, even wood burning. Formally trained as a graphic designer, Natalie then sought out her dream job as a children’s book designer for Chronicle Books. But it wasn’t long before she missed her hand-making. “I was working in publishing, but looking to get back to making things with my hands and the things that I was passionate about, which are pattern design and surface design.” Wandering once again, she dabbled with tools and materials in search of what would stick. “I was exploring a lot of different materials to figure out what I liked, but what I did like was making with my hands.”
After cutting her teeth in the maker world, Natalie and her husband decided it was time to make a move. Being closer to family was a primary goal, but there was also a looming shift in each of their careers for which a switch in geography felt like just the thing. The intersection of these hopes met in Texas, and so it was decided. She left Chronicle and Miss Natalie affectionately behind, exchanging for them the chance to take up some new, not yet known dream on Texan terrain.