Grit and Grace

A cowgirl in Minnesota made the most of her time away from school due to COVID-19.

Grace Nordick, Detroit Lakes, Minn., works in her grandpa’s leather shop, creating leather items such as head stalls, wallets, checkbook covers, chapstick holders, dog collars, makeup bags, earrings, spur straps, and more.

The fifteen-year-old started her business, called “Grit and Grace,” two years ago.

But her love of leatherwork began when she spent her growing up years playing in Papa’s shop. Papa, also known as Laurel McKenzie, made harness and, for a while, saddles, in his shop while Grace played with her toys: a toy buggy, a bouncy horse, and a TV box made into a playhouse.

As a young kid, Grace was always creative. She made animals out of rubber bands, then went through a duct tape “phase,” making pens and other things out of the tape. A few years ago, she made string art projects.

So it came naturally to her, to work with leather.

At first, she didn’t sew the leather, asking her grandpa to do it for her. She’d cut the patterns, and he would do the sewing, which intimidated her a little. But one day, she decided to try it, and now she’s doing her own.

She started her leatherwork in earnest in 2018, with McKenzie’s help in buying leather and planning projects.

Her mom, Carrie Arntson, and her stepmom, Lindsay Nordick, began selling her items to their friends, and promoting her work on social media. Grace had a contest on Facebook to determine the name of her business, and she officially kicked off the business. “When I started my Facebook page (in January), I didn’t think I would make this much stuff this fast,” she said.

When school was in session and not online, the freshman would hurry to the shop after school each day. Now, during quarantine, she’s in the shop nearly every day that she’s at her dad, Jake Nordick’s place. Her dad and Lindsay, live on the farm where Jake was raised, where Laurel and his wife Jackie live, and where the leather shop is. Grace alternates weeks, spending one at her dad’s and the next one at her mom’s, near Hawley, Minn.

McKenzie is at the shop with her nearly every morning, and sometimes weekends, too. “He’s wanting to retire but I’m not going to let him,” she said. “I keep him pretty busy. (On weekends), “I convince him for at least an hour to sit there with me.”

Most of her leatherwork is done by patterns that she purchases, but she’s made some of her goods from patterns she’s created herself. She’d like to make purses, and she’s taking mental notes of components she prefers, so when she does make one, she can include the parts she’s liked.

She also paints some of her leather pieces, which can be time consuming. Usually leather is dyed, but to get more and brighter colors, she has started using paint. Some figures, like sunflowers, might require up to eight coats of paint, with the first coat as white so the color shows up better, and lots of detail work for the smaller pieces.

On the weeks she’s at her mom’s in Hawley, she’s riding horses. Her mother is a barrel horse trainer, and Grace started running barrels when she was little enough to have her horse led through the pattern. She exercises the horses her mom has started, and this time of year, she’s enjoying watching the next crop of foals make their appearance.

She competes in the National Barrel Horse Association, the United Barrel Racing Association, and in the Sherry Cervi Youth Championships

Grace appreciates her grandpa, who still helps and gives advice. On his birthday on April 2, she gave him a mug that said, “Employee of the Month,” but said that the title probably wasn’t enough.

McKenzie served in the military from 1967 to 1969 . He had had horses as a young man and had sold them before he joined the army. After he had been home a year, he bought horses again. One day, he dropped off a harness at a shop, to be fixed. A year later, when he came back to pick it up, “it was laying in the same spot where I had dropped it,” he said.

So he found a used sewing machine and leather making equipment, and began to learn.

“I had never sewed a stitch in my life,” he said. He learned by trial and error, taking apart an old harness and using it for patterns.

McKenzie made it his life’s work, even making saddles at one time, along with an employee.

He loves it that he gets to spend time with his granddaughter. “We get along good. I enjoy her. We have a good time,” he said.

Grace treats her leatherwork as a business. She’s done the math to figure out her costs on each item she makes. “I figure out how much time and money I’m putting into each project, and how much I make, so my prices are reasonable.”

With her earnings, she’s paying her grandpa back for loans he made to her to buy materials. She’s also saving it, possibly for fuel or vehicle expenses, as she will be able to drive in a year.

In school, the pathway she’s chosen is business related, and after college, she’s hoping to continue Grit and Grace, as a side business or even full time.

But for now, after her online schoolwork is done, she’s spending her days in the shop and riding horses.

“I love sitting in the shop, turning on the radio, listening to music and working by myself.”

Grace’s work can be found on Facebook at F