One Dye at a Time

In the face of devastating loss, Leisa Oakes Davis had two choices: She could give up or she could get to work, using art to bring healing to herself and a happy, hippy vibe to Kelleys Island. 
In her bright, flowing, hand-dyed dress, Leisa Oakes Davis — better known as Peach — has a laid-back vibe with a friendly disposition to match. She’s the owner and artist at 2 Hippies Dyein’, a Kelleys Island boutique that goes beyond the typical tie-dyed T-shirt. Any fabric, from a onesie to a sundress, can become the canvas for her creations, which flaunt peace signs, feathers, butterflies and portraits of rock stars like Bob Marley and John Lennon.

“Our goal has always been to … have our customers walk into our shop and feel the good vibes,” she says.

But Leisa hasn’t always felt the peace, love and happiness for which she strives every day. 

In 2014, her 17-year-old son, Asher, died after a 12-year battle with Batten disease, a rare and always fatal disorder of the nervous system. Caused by a genetic defect inherited from both parents, the disease slowly robbed Asher of his abilities to see, walk and, eventually, speak. 

“It was a long, painful journey,” Leisa says. “It is difficult to put the loss of a child into words, but I do know it changes you forever. And it takes hard work to keep moving forward.”

There was also her older son to worry about. Sam, who has autism, had an especially difficult time processing his feelings. “He lost his best friend,” says Leisa, who struggled to help him while picking up the pieces of her own broken heart.

“When Asher passed, we were all looking for a change,” she says. “We thought about moving to a new place in the country. Then, we saw an apartment for rent in a downtown Sandusky building, and we fell in love.”

Located above the Encore resale shop on Columbus Street, the spacious apartment has lake-facing windows and a large picture window overlooking the State Theater. Three years into their lease, Leisa had the opportunity to buy the entire building from the estate of the former owner.

“It worked out beautifully,” Leisa says. She takes the Jet Express ferry each day to her boutique on Kelleys Island and Sam, who can’t drive, is within easy walking distance of his job and music lessons.

 “A small city like this is very accommodating for Sam and his needs. He’s doing very well, though the challenges of autism are ever present. His anxieties can challenge him and his progress at times. It is heartbreaking for me.”

Through it all, making art has been therapeutic for Leisa, who says it’s a great source of release and creative expression. 

Like life, hand-dyeing fabrics is a long, messy process. The art of batik, which originated in Indonesia, involves waxing, dyeing and de-waxing cloth over and over again for each color used. It can take up to a week to complete all the steps, depending on the intricacy of the hand-drawn designs Leisa creates on each product she sells. 

“Yes, I do this for an income, but I also know I create because it is part of my healing,” says Leisa. “As Frida Kahlo said, ‘All I know is I paint because I need to.’ I understand this feeling she felt.”

Inspiration for her creations come from everywhere, but Leisa gravitates toward symbols that have personal meaning. Bob Marley, butterflies, feathers and the color blue were some of Asher’s favorites. “Whenever Sam and I see a butterfly, for example, we feel Asher is visiting to say hello.”

A butterflies and feather mural painted on the south-facing wall of the building at 126 Columbus Ave. is a tribute to him. Based on Leisa’s design, and painted by Sandusky tattoo artist Robin Hudnall, the mural has become a source of comfort.

“The mural Robin painted was a tremendous gift and an act of kindness to both Sam and me,” says Leisa. “Early in the morning, when the street is quiet, I walk across the street, sit on the bench and look up at the mural and talk to Asher.”

2 Hippies Dyein’ is located at 115 Division St. on Kelleys Island in Ohio. 419-788-3446,