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Homesteading with Shele Jeanne Jessee

Hide tanner, maker, horsewoman. Just a few ways to begin to describe Shele. She lives her life rooted in tradition on the Central Coast of California, on Salinan-Chumash territory. Follow her here.

Photography by Ben Christensen

Shele Jeanne Jessee grew up on a 1200-acre ranch in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Northern California. She comes from a long line of homesteaders and makers. From a young age, she was taught the importance of connection to the land by raising her animals for meat, hunting with the men in her family, and riding horses.  Shele has always loved to learn and make with her hands, a value of western tradition.

“I have a deep devotion for raw materials, that are sourced sustainably. All of my hides are sourced in California and are considered a by-product of the meat industry.”

Currently living on the Central Coast of California, on Salinan-Chumash territory Shele continues to live a life connected to the land. With a background in permaculture design, horse training, primitive skills and homesteading, she keeps busy and considers work as a meditation and part of her service.

“All of the hides that I offer are considered a waste product. Any deerskin products are either from deer that have been hunted or are unwanted. All of the sheep, goatskins and buffalo hides are a product of the meat industry and are most often thrown away. I believe we have the right to choose what we eat and I believe in using the WHOLE animal.”

She tans hides the old way: with her own two hands, no chemicals, and time. I refer to this method as traditional. Using brain tanning methods, a type of fat and wood smoke-alchemy occurs, rendering a beautifully preserved hide to be used for a lifetime. 

“Hide tanning is one of my favorite practices, I am grateful that this is the way I get to spend my time, and I have been deeply steeped in the tradition for the last 10 yrs. I crave a good story, and everything I offer has one to tell.”