MARYSVILLE – It can be hard going to a craft show. You want to buy stuff to support local artists, but so many charge so much.
Not so with Lee “Red Wolf” Simmons, 79, of Marysville.
He makes macrame jewelry and gourd crafts, using recycled supplies from mostly Goodwill and Value Village to keep costs down.
“I have no qualms about getting things cheap,” he said.
Even though the macrame work can take up to three hours, his towel racks, for example, start at $10. He also cuts the wood and varnishes it.
“I don’t make money on labor,” he said. “I have fun doing it.”
Simmons really got into crafts six years ago after he was injured and his wife needed a caregiver.
He had been a cook at a barbecue joint near Medford, OR when he slipped on some black ice, disabling himself.
“I lost my house, car, everything,” he said.
They moved in with his daughter in Marysville; she became his wife’s caregiver.
“It took a lot out of us,” he said, tearing up.
They ended up moving her to the Marysville Care Center.
“Since January it’s become a man cave,” he said of his room at his daughter’s house.
He is getting a single bed. “She’s not coming home,” he added.
The former Navy boatswain’s mate makes plant hangars, gourd rattles, gourd bowls, bird water dishes and feeders, necklaces and more. The only limitation is “imagination,” he said. Sometimes “I don’t have an idea for this right now, but I will.”
He is making some wind chimes now from materials he bought years ago.
His crafts are labor intensive. It takes three days to make the gourd rattles, for example. He has to open them up and take the guts out. He puts beads inside and decorates and varnishes them. He makes six at a time to make it worthwhile.
One craft really catching on recently is identification lanyards he sells for $5 each. He is going to sell about 40 of them for employees at the Marysville Care Center.
As to how he got the nickname Red Wolf, Simmons said it was from a shaman. He had nicknamed himself Gray Wolf, but the shaman said that was not his proper Indian name. “You have a fiery temper,” he was told, so his name was changed.
Simmons said he knows he is part Native American, but hasn’t been able to prove it. He said many of his ancestors denied their heritage so they would be “better treated by whites.”