In 1994, a successful upholstery shop was one of the eight businesses victimized in the well-known Seattle, Washington arsons. After the devastation from the fire, owner Ernie Apodaca lost his business, his money, his home on the lake and all the things he worked hard to acquire. Losing everything, Apodaca turned to alcohol to wash down his sorrows and began binging.
After realizing he needed to make some changes in his life, Apodaca prayed for guidance and answers to help start a new journey. His prayers soon guided him to a 28 day treatment program that he successfully completed and has maintained his sobriety for 22 years.
Apodaca is no stranger to challenging obstacles in life. He was born into the Black Foot Nation Indian tribe located in Browning, Montana. As a young child he experienced many health conditions that left him in the hospital. Shortly, he would find out that his mother disappeared and he would be a young Native American foster child.
“When I came out of treatment, everything was gone. So, I re-created Ernie.”
When Apodaca graduated from the program, he walked out as a new man but would soon realize he had nothing. His wife had left, he had no home and no money. But something significant happened while he was in the program. A vision to create furniture that was more than furniture. He would build furniture that was functional works of art. Furniture that would tell stories, incorporate culture and history and would be of the finest quality furniture and art combined.
With nothing to lose, Apodaca had a plan – he would propose his vision and ideas of the furniture to the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED). A component of this program is to support and provide resources for individual Indian businesses. A counselor, Patrick Curry, proposed an idea. The Seafair Pow wow at the Daybreak was two weeks away and Apodaca would be exhibiting his potential business and furniture. At this show, his booth traffic would be the deciding factor of how successful his business would really be.
In two weeks, with no money, no materials and no furniture, Apodaca needed to fill the space of his booth. He graciously accepted the challenge set out by the NCAIED and began using materials from his neighbor’s deck, scraped up a little money for hides and used foam from his past upholstery side jobs. He then visited Roger Fernandes, storyteller, Native American artist and painter, as well as a member of the Lower Elwha Band of the S’Klallam Indian tribe. Fernandes would hand paint the furniture. Odin Lonning, a traditional Tlingit Artist and carver would also begin collaborating with Apodaca and Fernandes, incorporating a combination of three different tribes and three different types of art.
The three artists created two chairs to fill their booth at the Seafair Pow wow. With an overwhelming amount of traffic and reaction to the furniture, Apodaca began to quickly blossom into his now, 6 year business in Tucson, Arizona as Apodaca Native Designs.
As business exploded, so did his need to create bigger, better and more beautiful pieces of art. He began incorporating saddle makers, Lisa and Loren Skyhorse to combine leather work into the decoration of the furniture. Also working with Pendleton Wool Mills, Pendleton fabric began to adorn couches, chairs and ottomans. With a mixture of high quality leather, furs, hides and intricate handmade designs, wildlife, Native American designs and various wood carvings began to turn into art that came to life.
“For inspiration, I pray for guidance and let the material and the pieces speak to me.”
Apodaca’s furniture is unlike many others. He takes pride not only in the quality of presentation and art, but with a focus and sensitivity to his clients’ comfort and fit which is customized for the customer. With 45 years of furniture building, Apodaca’s furniture show no seams. He takes extra time with his customers asking specific questions about height and weight for custom fitting for seat depth and foam resistance, along with getting familiar with the customers’ personality and style of their home. The highest quality foam is of extreme importance for comfort and every chair includes a lumbar for added support. It can take roughly four days to create his masterpieces.
Apodaca Native Designs is always evolving, thriving with passion and collaborating with the best artisans around. Currently, master craftsman and leather carver, Brian Esslinger, painter Karen Smith and painter, Pat Wasneac have joined Lonning and Fernades on Apodaca’s mission to produce marveling functional furniture art.