Harnessing teamwork: Couple creates leather jewelry, custom products

By Mary Belle Zook, Citizen Potawatomi Nation Public Information Department
Bob and Patty Frakes work in their Oklahoma City leather shop, Frakes Designs, and utilize time-honored techniques and modern technology to create art.

Not everyone can successfully incorporate marriage and business, but Bob and Patty Frakes are breaking the status quo with their leatherworking company Frakes Designs. Patty is a Travis family descendant and a paralegal by day for the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. Bob retired from the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and now oversees their company’s operations, which includes creating jewelry, key chains and custom projects with leather.

Bob’s interest in the art form began at an early age, and he now has more than 30 years of professional leathercraft experience.

“When I was a kid, not far from our home was a Tandy leather shop,” Bob said. “I kind of became friends with the owner at the time, and I started fiddling around.”

He did not expand on his interests much until adulthood when another family member’s wood engraving provided ample inspiration. His brother gifted him a case of tools, which included everything necessary to get started.

“When Bob picked it up and started working, he just stayed with it,” Patty explained.

Drawn to Western patterns, Bob began completing smaller crafts for personal use, including belts and wallets. Three decades later, he has expanded on his skill set and can complete projects of all sizes: from earrings and bracelets to gun holsters and guitar covers.

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Partnership

After 48 years of marriage, the duo understands each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

“Bob and I laugh about that a lot because we’re both strong personalities,” Patty said. “But for now, I am the student, and he is the teacher. He is a true leather artisan. He knows what the leather can do.”

Although Bob worked alone in the beginning, a special project three years ago required Patty’s assistance. Since then she has provided product ideas and economic savvy.

“My role is mostly design and finishing and assembling pieces. … I’m what you call product control,” Patty said and laughed.

Before becoming a school counselor, their daughter Jennifer was a basketball coach in Rush Springs, Oklahoma. She wanted a unique way to remind the players of their motto, “You get what you give.” Patty and Bob rose to the challenge, creating one-of-a-kind bracelets for each player and coach.

“That was our first foray into jewelry, and everybody liked them so much,” Patty said. “Up until this point, Bob was just doing special projects.”

Word spread quickly, and soon the Frakes had numerous requests for accessories, keychains and more.

“People in Jenni’s little town all wanted (our pieces),” she said. “And that’s how the beginning of our business was for us — just being able to create.”

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Advancement

The popularity inspired them to utilize new equipment and expand their base by partnering with boutiques, attending events and establishing an online presence through artisan groups.

“One of the most interesting things, to me, has been watching this creative process evolve,” Patty said. “In the beginning, everything was hand-cut, hand-tooled, hand-stitched and hand-finished. As with most things in life, technology now plays a bigger role.”

Manifesting their ideas is easier than ever before with the addition of a 3D printer and a laser burner.

“We can now create in a time-effective way so that most anyone can afford a custom piece. But even with all of the technology, every piece is still hand-finished for the beautiful end result,” she said.

Custom orders have also provided the Frakes an opportunity to learn more about Native American culture, specifically Potawatomi.

“It’s really cool to kind of reacquaint myself with all these symbols and what they mean — symbols I have seen a lot of throughout my life but never really understood,” Patty said.

While their business helps Patty connect to her Nishnabé heritage, she said it also is a way to reciprocate the support she has received.

“All three of my kids and myself, we all benefited from the scholarship program, and we were able to finish our educations. … I really appreciate everything the Tribe does,” she said.

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Eyeing the future

As a paralegal, most workdays include a tremendous amount of reading and writing, but Patty’s professional career does not allow for much creativity. Frakes Designs offers an outlet for expression.

“It’s nice to escape from reading about the law,” she said. “I really enjoy this part of my life even more, especially the older I get.”

The business also has Patty thinking about retirement.

“It would be a lot easier to retire if I hated my job, but I like my job. But now, I’m liking the design elements of creating something really pretty and meaningful,” she said.

For now, the Frakes continue to upgrade their home studio and experiment with new techniques. They plan to set up booths to market their goods around the state and increase sales through a website and Facebook page.

“I’m looking forward to being out in public,” Patty said. “Both of us are vaccinated up and ready to go.”

Potawatomi Gifts features some of Frakes Designs items in-store and online at potawatomigifts.com. Learn more by liking them on Facebook @frakesdesigns.

Examples of their work.