Jon and Tracy Haaland of Chemical Wedding create exquisite handbags made of scrap leather, in loads of variations. The skins come from conventional sources such as cows, goats, lambs, deer, and snakes—though other times it's alligator, ostrich, eel, and carp. Some designs have intricate and swirling medallions, resembling the wallpaper in an old saloon. Others barb and arch, like beetles' legs, while still others bloom into flowers and sprigs and leaves, flecked with tiny turquoise beads. Some handbags come edged with metal rivet embellishments, which manage to coarsen things and fancy them up at the same time. And some have elegant hand-stitching, because it's "rustic" and "decorative," but also "medical-looking—like stitches," says Jon. Some snap closed with a sturdy hinged mouth, giving the suggestion of a deep-wilderness jaw trap—though far daintier, made of pretty wood.
Deepening their work aesthetic, Jon and Tracy's living room is a thrilling frontier of oddities. Resting on shelves are trephines, old dentures, and a giant wasp more than an inch long, embedded in glass. In a cabinet display: a human skeleton, passed down through four generations of doctors, propped over a bed of disembodied doll heads. There are stuffed rats: "I gutted them and injected the muscle tissue with a solution taxidermists use for bird's feet to keep them plump," says Jon. There's a mummified cat, discovered under a porch: "People are always giving us things like that as gifts."
Curling down the wall is a snake's skeleton, which somehow manages to appear robust and intimidating, and which took Jon forever to prepare. (After the snake passed, he soaked the body in bleach for one and a half years, but the meat wouldn't dissolve, as it does with mammals. Changing his usual recipe, Jon packed the carcass in rock salt, and the jerked remnants flicked happily away.) Placed before the fireplace, there's a creepily ornate box that might've been an infant's casket. Friends found it in an old barn: "There was some goo in it, but they just rinsed it out," says Tracy. She has a pronounced Southern accent, and her voice drifts up when she speaks, forming gorgeous curlicues in the air.
Chemical Wedding products range from $110 to $400, and are sold throughout the country and in a nice handful of local shops: Clementine and Twilight, both in West Seattle; MoMo in the International District; and Horseshoe in Ballard.
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This article has been updated since its original publication.