Alaska artist paints clogs for Dansko

Posted: Thursday, September 02, 2004

ANCHORAGE On a rainy summer afternoon, Anchorage artist Romney Dodd-Ortland brushed red paint into a crosshatch over the toes of two dozen black leather clogs.

Next, she laid strokes of yellow-green between the red. Curvaceous red roses and slim green leaves topped the Christmas plaid.

Samples of the hand-painted holiday clogs were ready for a Las Vegas shoe show, where Pennsylvania-based shoe wholesaler Dansko would offer small batches of the limited edition to its 3,000 retailers first come, first served, said Mimi Curry, Dansko's vice president of operations.

Cheerleading by a local retailer gave Dodd-Ortland the guts to spin a fun diversion into a contract with the international shoe company, the artist said. Now she's so busy with shoes that she has sidelined the ceramics that have been her livelihood for more than a decade.

Dodd-Ortland first put her ceramics' colorful floral designs on Danskos for her running partner, a fan of the high-end clogs, last year. Paint flaked and scuffed off several pairs, she said, before she found a more durable technique.

Then the head of the sports shop where Dodd-Ortland buys her running shoes had her do a pair as a present for the shop's Dansko sales representative.

''It snowballed from there,'' Curry said.

Dansko sent Dodd-Ortland a first shipment of 200 pairs of clogs to decorate in April. Dansko comes out with special spring and fall models each year, using an unusual leather such as ostrich or featuring a printed design, Curry said, but the hand-painting is extra exclusive.

Two Pennsylvania artists will do more than 100 pairs, she said, while Dodd-Ortland has a contract for 400 or so. Each pair, normally $100-plus, will sell for more than $200 when decorated, Curry estimated.

''And what husband wouldn't spend that kind of money on his wife for Christmas?'' she asked.

Curry said she likes to wear her own pair of Dodd-Ortland originals, painted in oranges, tans and pinks, when she's traveling. People stop her to ask about them, Curry said, and the airport is a great place to chat.

Dodd-Ortland said Daniel Greenhalgh, president of Skinny Raven Sports in Anchorage, got her started. He was so enthusiastic about her work, she said, he gave her two dozen to paint as she chose.

''That's pretty empowering, when someone has that much faith in you,'' Dodd-Ortland said. ''It gave me the courage to approach Dansko, which seemed huge to me. And it wasn't.''

Dansko entrusted her with 200 pairs in the company's first order, she said, and then sent another 200. For Skinny Raven, Dodd-Ortland chose forget-me-nots, sunflowers and other flowers, patterns that had garnered her running partner the most compliments.

Painting a pair takes roughly an hour, she said.

The wearable art sells well, Skinny Raven employee Lin Hinderman said. One customer even brought in a hard-to-match shirt and requested a custom paint job, something Hinderman guessed cost $50. ''Then there were flowers on the clogs that matched the shirt,'' Hinderman said.

Dansko requested a holiday design, hence the Christmas plaid and roses. The shoes will come with a postcard on the artist who did that pair, Curry said, in case customers would like to buy more of their work. Dodd-Ortland plans to offer matching belts on her Web site.

''What I would really love for myself is to get into design work,'' coming up with patterns for sheets, or maybe running shorts for sportswear company Patagonia. ''I think they could use my help,'' Dodd-Ortland said.

Meanwhile, she'll finish the cases of shoes waiting on her shelves, listening to the Dave Matthews Band while rain soaks in around the climbing roses and lilies in her back yard, and the poppies, nasturtiums, calendulas and lobelias in the front.

Her dogs and sons will distract her, she said, but she'll finish the shoes before a mid-August vacation.

''It was definitely the encouragement that created the momentum,'' Dodd-Ortland said of her shoe venture with Skinny Raven and Dansko. ''If you get good people like that on your side, you can do anything.''

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