MCA Denver Shopmaker: Animal Handmade by Rachel Grammes

Photo by Luca Venter

MCA Denver Shopmaker: Animal Handmade
By Rachel Grammes
Published Issue 090, June 2021

This is an excerpt from a recent blog interview with Animal Handmade, a maker who has been featured in the MCA Denver Shop since 2017. The cult favorite leather bags, wallets, clutches, and accessories consider exceptional craftsmanship and imaginative, fanciful designs that have utility and also serve as personal adornment. The designs tell a story, and inevitably when you purchase a wallet or bag, you carry that story with you too. 

We recently had a conversation over email with Ava of Animal Handmade. As admirers of the goods for years now, it was no surprise that our conversation with Ava was just as captivating as the work she creates.

Photo by Cornelia Peterson

Hi Ava! First of all, how are you doing?
I am well, thank you.

Your website states: “Animal Handmade is a story of light and dark.” Can you elaborate on this story?
Animal’s goal is to articulate the contrasting sensations of living. The pains and glories that often occur in tandem. It’s about how bad it can feel to do something good (and vice versa), how we’re built to seek answers to impossible questions, and how we manage to find beauty in the shitshow of it all.

When did you start Animal Handmade and what are some guiding philosophies in your work that have remained from the genesis of this line of leather goods?
I started Animal in 2014. In the beginning I just wanted to experiment with technique and texture. I wanted to make something that blended my love for 2D art and functional goods. My parents ran a kid’s clothing company so I grew up learning about construction and materials. Thanks to this accidental training, it has always been essential to me to make well-made, long-lasting work. I still want to experiment with materials and see how far I can push them. At my happiest, I’m just a dad tinkering in the garage.

Photo by Luca Venter

The Death is a Door series is your most recent project within the Animal Handmade collection. The description of this collection reads: “A story in four chapters, this collection explores the phases of personal evolution. The ways we fight and seek and surrender to the venture of living.” Did this collection start during the pandemic? What is your relationship with this series having lived through this time?
Death is a Door came out the summer of 2019. A lot of the messages can be applied to 2020 but it was not built to address something so globally traumatic. Death is a Door is about practicing moving through death everyday. It can be small losses and undesired change. It can manifest on a massive scale like we’re experiencing now. Letting go of what has gone is a lifetime’s work. 

Do you have a vision for the future of Animal Handmade you might share with us?
I want to get into new materials and applications. I love processes more than maybe anything so I want to learn new techniques to bring Animal into a full technicolor of textures and pieces. Leather forever, yes, but also everything else I can get my hands on.

To view the Animal Handmade collection at MCA Denver, visit To see more of Animal Handmade’s works, follow them on Instagram.

Rachel Grammes is the Digital Marketing Specialist and Independent Photography Contractor at Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.