Search the keyword "Moondoonie" on the Web, and the first response you'll get is one of uncertainty. "Did you mean: moondoggie?" Google asks. (What the heck is a moondoggie anyway?)
No, I meant Moondoonie. Specifically, Moondoonie Designs, a line of handcrafted jewelry, painted furniture, art and all things creative, courtesy of Rhonda Hodges, 41.
"The name was given to me by my uncle, my dad's brother," says Hodges, who moved up and down the East Coast in a military family but calls Kannapolis home. "I asked him where it comes from, and he has no idea."
Her uncle isn't the only person who has helped inspire Hodges to dive headfirst into her own business. During our conversation, Hodges brings up her mom a lot, who passed away from ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, in April. She credits her with everything from teaching her to sew and paint furniture to pushing her to leave the corporate world and work for herself.
"My mom was incredibly talented," Hodges says. "It started from when I was a little girl. My mom and her friends used to get together back in the polyester days with bell-bottoms and the matching tops, and they would sew. My sister and I learned to sew at an early age."
Those days of sewing thread to fabric eventually evolved into her own line of jewelry (earrings, bracelets, hairpins, pendants, etc.), which is available locally at The Boulevard at South End and Sanctuary of Davidson. Hodges calls herself a "picker" and finds materials at thrift shops to incorporate into her designs, which she then supplements with beads (faceted beads are her favorites) from The Bead Lady in Concord.
"It's mostly like your grandmother's broaches," Hodges says. "They may not be something you would want to stick on a scarf, but once you've integrated it with some pearls ... And even clip-on earrings. They're not comfortable. I usually don't have any qualms about tearing them apart and creating bracelets or hairpins with them. I don't know that people are flocking to wear these big chunks of pearls clustered and sewn together, the way our grandmothers wore them."
Hodges says that nature plays a role in her creative process. She does a lot of camping and hiking in the warmer months, and oftentimes details of those surroundings make their way into her pieces. Reds and greens may appear in her crafts from the poinsettias that are out now, or she may use amber-colored beads because of the changing colors of the leaves.
When she's not thrifting or stringing beads together, Hodges is in her garage, painting furniture, or selling it at her antique booth in The Depot at Gibson Mill.
"My mother was into covering chairs and painting chairs, and I would paint matching tables to go with them," she says. "She would cover chairs in chenille and I would paint tables with sun faces — just really light and airy, but still very much vintage."
One piece Hodges customized recently is a vanity dresser for an acquaintance. She painted it silver, added some detailing to the drawers, and attached an eclectic mix of knobs from Anthropologie.
She also just finished a silver chair ("I'm really into silver right now, probably to a fault at this point," she says) with a black-and-white cover on it and swirls on the back. "I had a hard time because the wood on the chair was so pretty, but it was also very dated. I used to always feel like I had to keep antiques in their original state, but I think furniture fashion and trends are moving toward painting pieces. Because at some point, if you don't like it, you can always strip it down."
Hodges says taking that leap of faith and leaving behind 16 years in financial services has been "an amazing journey." Last January, she took a leave of absence to help care for her mom and never went back. After she started painting again and focusing her energy on her jewelry, not only were these endeavors paving a new career path, they helped her deal with her mother's death.
"I looked at [the recently finished silver chair] and I said, 'This is exactly the kind of work she used to do, that used to leave me in awe.' And here I am, able to do what she was able to do. She was a good teacher. I can still stay connected to her through art."