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A Full Circle Artist

9/29/16

Shea Stanfield
Arts Columnist

“A woman is the full circle within her, she has the power to create, nurture, and transform.” Written in a pioneer journal from Mt. Pleasant, UT, in July 1909. Local artist Roberta Arthur, of Berta’s Bags, embodies this time-honored attitude. Roberta reaches back to pull forward the classic knowledge, basic skills, and time honored vintage fabrics in the design and construction of her Berta’s Bags masterpieces.

Roberta grew up between Utah and New Mexico. She recalls her foster mom, Mary Peterson, who was a gifted seamstress and extremely patient in teaching her the “tricks of the trade” with fabrics and a variety of sewing techniques. Mary also loved classical music and played with the orchestra at Snow College. One of Roberta’s memories was being introduced to the clarinet, as a young girl. She instantly fell in love with music and practiced diligently, turning her music training into a serious endeavor. In fact, Roberta became so accomplished on her clarinet that she was invited to play with Mary during some of the Snow College Orchestra’s performances.

During the summers, Roberta had another “Mary” in her life, her father’s mother.  Grandmother Mary was an accomplished Navajo rug weaver. Roberta remembers working on a number of rugs with her, while learning the nuances in creating artfully dyed and meticulously crafted wool rugs. Roberta recalls, “Once we wove a rug together, she gave me credit with my name as the weaver, I was so proud!”  Grandmother Mary also was also the master of her foot-petal Singer sewing machine. She was a genius with “repurposing” old clothing or random fabrics, stitching them together to beautiful blankets or intricate floor rugs. Roberta laughs when she remembers seeing her own prom dress in a blanket years later, after making it for her big event in high school. 

Roberta’s early sewing instruction with the Future Homemakers of America (FHA) classes in high school, partnered with her skills from Mary Peterson, and innovative knowledge from her grandmother would pay off when she most needed it. Years later, Roberta found herself a single parent without a job. To make ends meet, she bought a sewing machine from a catalog and began crafting clothing to sell at local flea markets. Her work was so well-received that she was able to pay for the bare necessities for her family. Eventually, Roberta landed a job with the Federal government, with which she will celebrate her 30-year anniversary in November 2016. As Roberta looks back, she credits the generosity of good women in her life, “that took the time and patience to teach me a craft that could bridge a gap in my life when my family really needed it.”

Today, Roberta draws her inspiration from everywhere. She enjoys meeting other artists and crafting vendors where she gathers a multitude of ideas for her own work. In 2011, Berta’s Bags was born. Her unique collection of “bags,” all original in design and fabric, are widely collected. Their popularity has grown for their quality construction, simplicity of design, and countless utilitarian advantages. Roberta sells her creations at various art and craft festivals during the “arts season” here in the valley. Never too far from her Native American roots, Berta’s Bags are also popular with the ladies of Sells, AZ. A couple times a year, one of Roberta’s friends makes the trip to Phoenix to scoop up the “one of a kind” designs to take back to the Southern Arizona community.

Roberta’s spirit of “giving back” also takes a variety of forms during the year. For the holidays, she creates original handmade holiday ornaments as gifts for the volunteers at work. She also donates a number of her Berta Bags to help others through fundraising, door prizes, or silent auction items. Her latest project is to construct 13 pillows for girls at a teen orphanage, so each girl has her own original creation of fabric art. Roberta adds, “I am very fortunate to have a full-time job and blessed with a talent that can help others.” She is in constant search for those perfect fabrics for her next creations. Her search leads her to local thrift stores, yard sales, and fabric stores, always on the hunt for that unique piece of fabric. Yes, Roberta of Berta’s Bags, truly embodies the power to create, nurture, and transform, not only repurposed fabrics into gloriously functional bags, but her artfully designed creations serve to lift the lives of others in beauty and hope.

Berta’s Bags cost $12-$15. If you would like a functional, beautiful, originally designed bag of your own, or for a gift, artist Roberta Arthur may be contacted via e-mail at rjainphx@aol.com.

Contact Arts Columnist Shea Stanfield at flowingquill@yahoo.com.