I have always loved working with my hands. When I was a kid, I built anything I could, with whatever materials were at hand. Old boards, grain sacks, rope, old sheets, wire, fishing rods, sticks, old wheels, a can of old bent rusty nails, became building materials for wooden carts, scarecrows, tree houses, toy sailboats.
The first leather item that I remember making, was with some scrap cowhide leather that had come from a neighbour. I made a peace symbol pendant with the leather and a piece of copper. During the summer of 1969 I began working for that neighbour, Daphne Lingwood, one of the pioneers of contemporary leather design, near Caledon East, Ontario. I learned to cut and color and polish leather at a wooden workbench in her design studio. Daphne inspired me to always push the boundaries of creativity and to always take the time to experiment with new ideas. I continued to work for Daphne over the next several years.
During that time I attended Sheridan College in Oakville Ontario, where I took a general arts course. I continued my leather work during my time as a student and in the following years I showed and sold my original work at many art and music fairs throughout Canada and the US. Eventually I went on to exhibit for many years at the American Craft Enterprises shows on the East Coast of the US as well as the One of a Kind show in Toronto.
I have won many craft and design awards over the years.
I have also been granted two US patents for industrial designs of leather tool bags I did for Ideal Industries Canada in Ajax Ontario.
Today I make leather boxes, jewelry and sculptural pieces depicting rural architecture, landscapes and some purely abstract forms. I live and work in my 70 year old former livestock auction barn (The Cow Palace) near Orono Ontario, where I have my leather design studio and a demonstration theatre where the auctions used to be held
My Materials and Techniques
I work with vegetable tanned natural cowhide. When I get the hides they have already been "tanned", meaning they have been processed to make them stable and resistant to rotting. The hides are soaked in a "tea" made from tree bark (which has a high tannin content) to tan them. Otherwise they are natural and uncolored (actually a flesh color) and have the hair removed. As the hides and the tanning agent are both natural organic products, the material is very safe to work with and it is biodegradable.
I use both "top grain" and "split sueded" cowhide, both are vegetable tanned. The "top grain" leather is smooth and has the hair-cell pattern (many tiny holes) in the surface. The split sueded cowhide is fibrous and has a nap. It accepts paint and dye extremely well.
Vegetable tanned hides have the unique ability to be wetted and formed much like wet clay. When dry, the leather becomes stiff and holds the shape given it, when wet. It can also be stamped or debossed using various tools that, when tapped with a hammer, leave lasting impressions.
I colour the leather at different stages of the process, depending on the effect I want. I use water based dyes for the base colour and acrylic artists color mixed down to a creamy consistency to highlight or strengthen colours. The leather is usually damp when I dye or paint it. This allows the dye or thinned paint to penetrate the fibre more easily.
The acrylic paint when applied properly, creates a new surface for the leather that is extremely durable and colorfast, but retains the leather look.
I paint the damp leather, form it and let the paint and leather dry together. This creates a resilient material with a very durable surface
I use various tools to create the textures in my sculptural work. The leather is very accepting of any manipulation using abrasives as well as hammering, scratching, rubbing etc. and rewards with intricate and interesting surface markings. Some of the rough surface textures I make are taken directly off granite rock in the Canadian Shield. Wet leather is stretched out on the rock surface and pressed into it by hand or by foot. The ancient texture of the rock is permanently impressed into the fiber as it dries in the sun.