published Monday, April 18th, 2011

Chattanooga artist creates functional works of art

Rondell Crier uses found objects and salvaged materials for his bags, which he sells online at victoriadesignstudio.com and at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center. He is pictured with a self-portrait he painted.
Staff photo by Jenna Walker/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Rondell Crier uses found objects and salvaged materials for his bags, which he sells online at victoriadesignstudio.com and at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center. He is pictured with a self-portrait he painted. Staff photo by Jenna Walker/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Local artist Rondell Crier expresses his artistic talent on fabric.

The New Orleans native, who moved to Chattanooga after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, creates one-of-a-kind purses, tote bags, messenger bags and computer bags in his home-based studio in Hixson.

Each piece, he said, is made with passion, and many are commissioned in advance by customers.

“Sometimes they end up being more a work of art than a bag,” said Crier, 36. The “art-flap bag,” as he dubbed his messenger-style totes, has an original painting on the flap.

“These bags aren’t something you would want to carry around all the time,” he said. “In fact, I’ve even considered putting them in shadow boxes.”

Crier sells his products online at victoriadesignstudio.com and at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center on M.L. King Boulevard. He hopes to sell them at Chattanooga Market, which opens May 1 at First Tennessee Pavilion.

Crier could be considered part of a wave of renewed popularity for handmade goods. Internet-based company Etsy, which enables people “to make a living making things and to reconnect makers with buyers,” has skyrocketed in popularity since going online in 2005.

Paul Smith, general manager of Chattanooga Market, said there’s interest in handmade items because the products are unique.

“You can go to the department store and buy something that’s mass-produced to keep the price low, but you’ll buy something that 10 or 15 people will have,” he said. “To buy something handmade or local makes it special.”

Crier said feedback has encouraged him to make more styles.

“I’m working on bags that won’t take a lot of time to make but will be good, quality pieces at a low cost.”

So far, Crier has made more than 175 bags at prices ranging from $25 to $600. The more expensive ones feature hand-painted portraits and intricate handmade details.

Crier uses mostly recycled pieces for his bags, perusing secondhand stores for materials. Straps on the bags, for example, are recycled belts.

“I enjoy using found objects and salvaged materials. It forces me to be more creative than using raw materials,” he said.

Crier described his work, most notably his paintings, as a reflection of his New Orleans roots. “I paint and draw the feelings of New Orleans,” he said.

Next on Crier’s list of artistic ventures is sculpting. He said he wants to bring his sketches to life by building them into larger-than-life sculptures.

But his greatest goal, he said, is making art that people can use.

“I like it to be functional,” he said.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga student Katie Redmond contributed to this story.

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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