UNION — Few tasks give Michelle Steevens of Union a greater feeling of joy and satisfaction than transforming animal hides into soft, pliable leather products people can use.

“It is a labor of love. I love tanning hide into leather. It is all I think about,” she said.

Steevens is understandably filled with excitement and anticipation as she begins the operation of her new business in Union, Catherine Creek Hides. The store, which opened Friday, Nov. 26, will provide hide tanning and bone cleaning services beginning in January. It is now open by appointment for people who want to see its limited selection of animal hides, furs and skulls.

Steevens said the tanning services offered by Catherine Creek Hides will help fill a void.

“There is a huge shortage of tanners in this country,” she said.

Steevens said many tanneries have been shut down for environmental reasons, such as the chemicals used in the tanning process. She said this will not be an issue for her because she focuses on using organic products.

Another reason for the shortage, Steevens said, is that tanning raw hides is taxing.

“It is very labor intensive work,” she said.

Steevens views tanning not only as work but also as an art, one whose medium is rawhide.

“It is fascinating material,” she said. “You can do anything with it.”

The process of tanning, Steevens said, has a complexity that she finds intriguing.

“There is a lot to it. I am always learning something new,” she said.

The products she produces through the tanning process include hair on hide items such as pelts and rugs.

Steevens started tanning as a hobby while living in Southern Oregon and then began operating a small business out of her garage. Soon her business became more than she could handle in her garage and she was able to leave her job and keep her expanding tannery operation going.

“I outgrew my space so quickly,” she said.

Steevens moved to Union three months ago because of the opportunity there to open Catherine Creek Hides in the former Bronson Lumber building, 219 E. Beakman St.

The bone cleaning service Catherine Creek Hides will be offering is one Steevens also provided in Southern Oregon. It will be primarily for skulls of game animals people want to keep. Such skulls are often referred to as European mounts.

Steevens will give customers a choice of two cleaning methods for bones — boiling or dermestid beetles. The boiling method involves placing a skull or other bones in a big pan. The water in it is then boiled steadily until all the fat and flesh comes away.

The process of cleaning bones with dermestid beetles is known as skeletonization. Larvae of the beetles is placed on the bones and they clean the bones of flesh.

“Beetles give bones a museum quality finish. People with trophy animals want that,” she said.

The beetle cleaning option will not be available until after January.

“We will be easing into it. We need time to build a beetle colony,” Steevens said.

Steevens is operating her new business with the help of her daughter, Christine Benitez, who will be the store manager.

People who want to visit Catherine Creek Hides now by appointment can make arrangements to do so by contacting Steevens or Benitez by phone at 541-910-3683, via email at catherinecreekhides@gmail.com or through Facebook or Instagram.

Catherine Creek Hides will conduct its grand opening in January at a date that will be announced later.

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General assignment reporter

Beats include the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

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