Who doesn't love the smell of leather, am I right?!
I was brought to Fernie under the pretense that it's the best town to live. I was not a skier nor was I too keen on snow so I was skeptical at first. However, some words of wisdom were shared with me upon arrival - to live and survive in Fernie you must get creative. While the advice was likely about working multiple jobs, I chose to take it in the most literal sense and started repurposing meat grinders to create unique lamps and learning how to work with leather. Six years later, I’m living and loving that truth.
As with many bright-eyed people who move to Fernie I had a very open schedule. My big life passion is ‘ahem’ everything horse. I grew up riding horses whenever possible and in my young adult years, spent many years driving two-horse wagons in my hometown Victoria, BC and on the Big Island of Hawaii. I also spent countless seasons trail guiding at ranches in BC’s interior. I feel this must be why I chose leather as my medium and why I reached out to an old family friend, Brian Ironmonger, a saddle maker in Jaffray, BC. I quickly learned that Brian’s door is always open to anyone who wants to learn the art of saddle making (or storytelling.) I spent most of my first Fernie winter in Brian’s workshop where I watched his hands for hours creating something out of nothing. Six years later I've continued working and being challenged by leather work.
If you put a pencil in my hand I’m not able to draw a darn thing but put a leather knife and some stamping tools in my hand and I even shock myself with the images I produce. The art of hand-tooling leather can be tedious and take hours. The process has become almost meditative, as it cannot be rushed, started and returned to at a later point, or done while multitasking. I just have to sit and concentrate. Hand tooling requires patience and being able to quiet my mind and focus to reveal the vision of a three-dimensional image. Hand tooling leather involves first dipping the leather in water so it’s pliable, cutting in the desired outline with a swivelling knife, and then gently hammering small tooling stamps along the edge of the cut line until the level of definition, texture, and depth is achieved to bring the design alive.
Leatherwork is not unlike being a bike or car mechanic, heck I think I might be a 'leather mechanic.’ If my rig falls apart while I’m out on the trail it’s imperative that I carry the skills and tools with me to fix whatever broke and get back to adventuring on my horse. It’s pretty incredible the terrain and distance you can cover in a relatively short time on horseback and I surely don't want something to break and be stuck hoofing it all the way back.
So, you've got your function and beauty and the great part about working with leather is the ability to put the two together. My goal is to take a blank canvas, or hide in my case, and create a functional art piece through the combination of a timeless skill and modern design. I am an extremely practical person, but there’s nothing wrong with throwing in a little style, or a tassel here or there! A few of the items I make include leather and canvas bags and aprons, wallets, keychains, personalized flasks, wool blanket rolls with leather straps, and all the bike accessories.
Leather has two remarkable properties: a smell that has an uncanny ability to surface a flood of memories, and durability that can see through generations. I’m proud of what I've accomplished so far, but what really excites me is what's to come! Every new project I take on I draws on every technique I have learned along the way and I learn as much from my failures as my successes. As for my meat grinder lamps, that might be a story for another day…
If you are interested in seeing my work, it is displayed at the Fernie Arts Co-op or come check out the art show 'Hearth' on November 30 and December 1.