ARTIST INTERVIEW: Brittany Cole Bush of Shepherdess

SHEPHERDESS is the collaborative project of designer Laura Schoorl and modern-day urban shepherdess Brittany Cole Bush. Together they purvey the beautiful hides of regionally raised sheep and goats, sourced from farms and ranches within the Bay Area, California. We spoke to Brittany about her creative journey.
 
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Describe the path that led you to the work you do now. Did you take any big risks to get where you are?
As a partner in Shepherdess, Laura and I make a dynamic duo. I am self-described modern-day Shepherdess working with sheep and goats on the land to provide land stewardship services on landscapes of Northern California. We graze vegetation to reduce the threat of wild fire, increase biodiversity and work towards a regenerative agricultural system. I also work with leather and hair-on hides crafting practical things for everyday life. I teamed up with Laura 2014. We both love working with leather and I suggested that we try to source our hides from producers of sheep and goats regionally. She loved the idea of sourcing regionally raised animal hides. Most of these beautiful hides get bailed and shipped to China, turned practically into a wasted product.

We wanted to be a part of stopping that cycle and to keep the story intact of animals on the land here in California. We had a small pilot lot of sheep skins tanned in California and found that the hide simply was perfect and beautiful as it was. From one idea to another, the evolution of Shepherdess Holistic Hides has become a passion of ours as we bring these beautiful hides to the urban world. By supporting a regenerative system where we keep byproducts of our food system here and intact we are able to honor the animals and bring an ethical product to the urban world.
 
Do you have a daily working routine? What is it like?
As I shepherdess I tend to animals on the land. I work with a trained border collie, Rue to herd the animals over the Bay Area landscapes. The work is beautiful, bucolic and very challenging at times. It’s a lifestyle that so many folks dream about and I’m happy to share a bit of my world with others through sharing images through social media (@brittanycolebush) and talking with folks when we sell our hides. I also am an entrepreneur consulting public agencies and private land owners in how to use grazing animals as a tool to regenerate the vitality of landscapes through a practice called Holistic Management. I have the luxury of being both a rural ‘pastoral maiden’ and a city gal through the diverse livelihoods that I’ve cultivated. I adore spending time with Laura in her studio in Oakland, CA which is the home-base of Shepherdess. Daily life is always different. From trekking the seas of grasslands with hundreds of sheep and goats to enjoying all the wonders of culture, food, craft and art of the city. I am thrilled to be living a life that I love.
 
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Did you have any mentors or important creative influences?
Laura Schoorl, my friend and business partner is one of my most important creative influences and inspirations in general. She too lives the world that she creates and has her own line of clothing and hand crafted leather sandals under her personal brand and runs Pansy and co-manages our business Shepherdess Holistic Hides. The woman is a renaissance woman, she is always working but always living authentically. She is smart, savvy and easy to collaborate with. Laura is influential in many ways as a designer and entrepreneur as she holds true to her ethics and process, something that is essential for success and in supporting a better industry within our changing world.
  How are you inspired by the environment around you, how does home/city/nature you live in, affect your work?
Everything in the environment inspires me. My work brings me to the most beautiful, scenic places that very few people get to see and experience. It’s tactile and touches every sense when working on the land. The natural world is the basis of my work and the foundation of the hides that we purvey. We are honored to be able to share the natural world through our hides, linking the connection between land and animal, honoring the beauty of the cycle of life from a sheep grazing grass to providing us both food and fiber.
 
Why is it important to you to show and share your work to a larger community?
For me, our work is so important because of the conversations that are had regarding where the animals come from, the process and why we call our work holistic. The animals that provided their hides that we share were a part of an ecological system that is not one that is degrading but regenerative, as our landscapes actually thrive with active management and impact from carefully managed grazing. Like the ancient herds that moved across the west long ago, today grazing animals can be managed to mimic the positive impact on the land that these herds once provided to the land. I love to explain and describe how this works when people inquire. Being able to meet me and Laura at markets is a great way to feel and see these beautiful hides and to learn why they are so special.
 
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