Meet Handcrafted America’s Artisan Wendy Stevens

Wendy Stevens, Metal Purses

Wendy Stevens never went to art school, nor did it ever cross her mind to pursue a design career. In fact, she had no idea she even had the talent, vision or ability to create works of functional art. After leaving her career in bi-lingual education in San Francisco, she needed a fresh start, to “find herself,” so to speak. She had friends who were painters, actors, performers in New York, and she settled in among the art crowd.

Every day, she would commute to her job on the subway, walk the streets of Manhattan, enthralled by the vibe and the sights. A theme began to emerge. Everywhere she looked, she saw metal—in the subway stations, on phone booths, discarded sheet metal on the sidewalks of The Bowery and on Canal Street. Around the same time, Wendy started noticing the bags, purses, satchels people carried on the train, and the vision started to form, a meld of metal and fashion.

But still she had no idea how her concepts would come together—literally—how to put the materials together. Her landlord owned a plumbing contracting business, so she asked the plumbers who came and went about soldering and how to attach one object to another. Finally, she had a collection she was satisfied with, and when the upscale New York department store, Henri Bendel, held an open vendor day, Wendy was first in line. She set up, as she puts it, “three very crooked little handbags” on a cloth, and the buyer loved them.

In addition to selling her bags in various stores and online, Wendy has exhibited in New York galleries, participated in art shows sponsored by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution and the British Council in London. In 2010, she was invited by the prestigious Tassenmuseum in Ansterdam for a solo, comprehensive exhibition of her handbags, resulting in the museum acquiring four for their permanent collection.

All of Wendy’s handbags, from clutches to satchels to totes, are handmade from stainless steel with leather and metal components in her production studio outside of Philadelphia.

Meet Wendy…

What drew you to your chosen craft?

The concept for making handbags in metal began in 1983 in New York City, where an inner artistic potential was triggered by the variety and use of industrial materials that surrounded me daily in the city. Working intuitively, in an environment of artistic friends, I began to create an original, unique style, resulting in a modern, durable and versatile accessory.

What do you enjoy most about your craft?

The process. Beginning with an idea, designing it, buildingthe prototype, bringing it into production and taking it into the marketplace and meeting the people who will buy and use it.

I’ve met so many amazing people through my work that I may not have otherwise.

I also love building individual collections for a wide variety of stores, including museum and design shops, furniture and home stores, jewelry galleries and even florist and garden stores.

Why is it important for people to make things with their own hands?

I believe that making things by hand is a creative process that allows us to see and achieve accomplishments that may not have existed before, building on experience, existing knowledge and capabilities.

Through creativity, we can have influence by finding the universality in experiences, which originated with the personal.

In what ways are handmade goods better than those that are mass produced?

I like to think that handmade can indicate thought, quality and an individualistic approach by the maker. I have spent years refining my process to get it to where the result of the design is simple, clean and clear.

When making by hand, one can stretch, and even break the rules of what is possible, which is much more difficult when something is machine made and mass-produced. That is where individuality and uniqueness can happen, resulting in new horizons of design

What does the future hold for your type of work?

The jury is still out on this question…although I have been making stainless handbags for over 30 years, they are still viewed as very modern and alternative to the traditional and even the trend-driven style of handbag.

I would like to take my handbag collection abroad and market them in other countries. I could then combine my love for travel and language with my work


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