Monday, 8 August 2016

Leaders In Leathercraft: Christine Stanley

Christine Stanley (1919 – 1990) played an influential role in developing many of the early styles of figure carving, sculpting, and the use of color.  Her iconic work inspired many other masters of the craft who established their own personal style build upon the foundation of her artistry.

Christine Stanley Leather

Christine Stanley’s love of horses is what led to her introduction into leathercraft.  At 18, she had already become an accomplished artist, and bargained with a local saddle maker to trade a painting of him on a horse in exchange for a bridle and a few stamping lessons.  She made a few stamping tools to go with the swivel knife and backgrounder that he gave her, and began practicing on scraps of leather, attempting to copy samples of carved work she found on saddles.

Stanley began working for a friend who owned a concession stand at a horse auction in Los Angeles.  She delighted in making new friends there who owned horses and were a genuine part of the western culture she had grown to admire.  She decided to try her hand at selling leather bridles to the local cowboys, but noted that the quality had to be top notch as they tended to be more particular about what they put on horses more than what they put on their own back.

Christine Stanley Horse

She found success with these initial leather bridles and went on to making belts, wallets, and any other leather gear customers were interested in.  It wasn’t long before she began combining her love of art with leatherwork to create new floral designs and eventually moved into figure carving.

By 1946, she had moved to Merced, California and leather shortages due to the war had passed.  There had become an increased demand for handmade leather goods, and she had 4 prosperous years there before her work began catching the attention some of the other prominent leatherworkers of the day.

Stanley Ketchum Leathercraft

She was invited to join the Leathercraft Guild and was encouraged by the exchange of ideas and information among her peers.  This inspired her to begin sculpturing leather and working with a wide array of colors and dyes.  Her aspiration became to prove that the art of leathercraft was as important as any other medium in the field of art for home decoration and gallery showings.

In 1954, Dick McGahen hired Stanley to work for Craftool Co., where she designed many bag and wallet patterns, as well as a significant number of Craftaids and monthly Doodle Pages.  She was a regular contributor to leathercraft publications, most notably with her “Endangered Species” series, and created numerous patterns for Tandy’s early handbag kits.

Christine Stanely Tandygram

Several pieces of Stanley’s work are on display at the Tandy Leather Museum & Gallery in Fort Worth, Texas.

Multiple images in this article are attributed to the The Leather Craftsman Magazine.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Leaders In Leathercraft: Al Stohlman

Al Stohlman (1919-1998) was a pioneer in leathercraft and continues to influence hundreds of thousands of leathercrafters worldwide.  He and his wife Ann produced 100’s of magazine articles, Doodle Pages and other valuable tools still used in the leathercraft industry.

Al Stohlman Leathercraft

As a young boy, drawing came naturally to Stohlman and he aspired to become an illustrator for western stories.  Growing up in the Santa Ana Canyon, he would trail along on his horse after the cowboys from Bixby Ranch as they drove cattle down the dry Santa Ana River bed to the railroad pens in Olive, CA.  During this time, he learned a lot about horses and cowboys that became invaluable to his work, both as an artist and saddle-maker.

In 1941, Stohlman was called to serve in the Army’s 46th Engineer Regiment.  He was an excellent shot with a rifle, firing Expert with the M-1 in the army.  While in Milne Bay, New Guinea, Stohlman had his first encounter with leatherwork when he saw natives creating decorative designs in leather.  Returning home from the war 4 years later, housing was difficult to find, so Stohlman lived in a little shack and traded horses in Laguna Canyon.

Al Stohlman Cowboy

After viewing a poorly executed reproduction of a bucking horse on a saddle, Stohlman thought saddle art should be held to a higher standard; if he could do it on paper, why not leather?  He began to study other saddles very closely and developed his own techniques and procedures through trial and error, occasionally picking up tips from a local saddle shop.  He began making own tools to fit his needs and progressed rapidly.

“Doing things the hard way is not always the best, but it gives you a certain amount of experience and knowledge that would be very difficult to learn otherwise,” Stohlman once said. “If nothing else, it does develop your ingenuity.”

 Al Stohlman Horse

When down at the auction yards trading horses, he would bid on plain saddles, tool them, and sell them the next week to the highest bidder, affording him enough money for another used saddle and a modest living for a few weeks.  People liked the picture work that was featured on the saddles and, before long, he had quite a bit of business going.

Stohlman went on to take a job as a barn boss at a dude ranch in the San Bernardino Mountains.  Stohlman’s free nights were spent in the bunkhouse working on leather.  While buying leather one day at Schaff’s Leather Company, he met Guy Lauterbach, who took him in as his apprentice in 1947.  Lauterbach imparted his 40 years of leather working experience to Stohlman over the 5 year apprenticeship, advancing him from merely carving leather to building leather projects from the ground up.

Stohlman Guy Lauterbach

After several years in the shop, Stohlman was offered the privilege of carving a Doodle Page for Dick McCahen, owner of the Craftool Co.  One page led to another and he then moved to Los Angeles to work full time for Craftool, producing books such as “How to Carve Leather” and “Figure Carving” and developed many of the figure carving tools still carried in the Craftool line.

After two years in Los Angeles, Stohlman moved to the hills of Hemet for some peace and quiet.  There, he became a freelance artist and produced a number of patterns, tools, projects, and instruction books for Tandy Leather Company.

Stohlman met Ann McDonald at a leatherworking demonstration he was performing and the two went on to marry in 1963. The Stohlmans moved to Cache Creek, British Colombia in 1969, where they spent the next 29 years creating the bulk of their life’s work.  Al specialized in custom-made leather work and inking illustrations for the instruction books while Ann typed all of the instructions.  Ann became quite an accomplished leatherworker herself, having her work featured in a number of publications.

Al and Ann Stohlman

In 1983, the Al Stohlman Award for Achievement in Leathercraft was established to recognize an artist whose accomplishments in leatherwork and dedication to the promotion of the craft follow the example set by Stohlman.  Awarded annually, recipients of the medal are recognized on the basis of their overall achievements in leathercraft.

Al Stohlman passed away in 1998, however he left behind a legacy of teaching and beautiful leather work.  Many pieces of original Stohlman art are on display as part of the Al & Ann Stohlman Collection at the Tandy Leather Museum & Gallery in Fort Worth, TX.


Monday, 8 August 2016

Leaders In Leathercraft: Charles Tandy

Charles Tandy (1918 – 1978) had an insatiable entrepreneurial spirit, and his ambition and determination transformed multiple industries forever.  The perpetuation of leathercraft may not have existed without Charles Tandy’s vision of creating a successful and profitable leathercraft supply chain that could sustain growth and continue to make leathercraft widely available to this day.

Charles Tandy Leather

Even from a young age, Charles Tandy was always an industrialist.  His father, Dave Tandy, ran a shoe findings business and Charles first displayed his aptitude for salesmanship around the age of 10, selling leather scraps from his father’s shop to teach other children how to make belts.  As a teenager, he partnered with John Justin, Jr. of the Justin Boot family and the two began manufacturing ladies’ belts out of scraps of leather from the family boot factory.  They had quite the small business, selling their belts to local department stores and specialty shops, profiting at least a dollar per belt.  By age 18, Charles had also begun a side business of regilding the boots of chorus girls from the new Casa Manana theatre at a rate of $5 per pair.

Charles studied business at TCU and graduated in 1940, shortly after joining the US Navy.  A consummate salesman, he set a record for war bond issuing offices nationwide while selling war bonds in Hawaii.  It was during his tour of duty that he became aware of the therapeutic and recreation applications of leathercraft taking place in the Navy hospitals.  He wrote to his father about what he had seen, noting that it might be an opportunity for an expansion in the family business.

Charles Tandy Navy

After a tour of sea duty, Charles was selected to attend the Naval Accounting School at Harvard.  When he finally got out of active service in 1947, he was a man on a mission.  Now 29 years old, he began working full time for Hinckley-Tandy Leather Company and was drawn to the high profit margins of the leathercraft business and saw expansion possibilities of the hobby market.  This eventually led to the split of the business, with Charles and his father forming Tandy Leather Co., and Norton Hinckley maintaining the shoe findings division.

Charles was ambitious and sought out other market segments to complement their growing leathercraft empire.  In 1952, company acquired the American Handicrafts company, broadening the line of do-it-yourself handicraft items.  In 1955, the Tandy Leather Company became part of the American Hide and Leather Company of Boston (later General American Industries).  After his father’s retirement as president of Tandy Leather Co. in 1956, Charles was elected chairman of the board in 1959 and shortly gained managing control of General American Industries.

Charles Tandy Radio Shack

Following the change, Charles optimistically moved the corporate headquarters to Fort Worth, changed the company’s name to Tandy Corp., and began trading stock on the New York Stock Exchange by 1961.  That same year, he began building the Tandy Empire with the acquisition of the Craftool Company and Clark and Clark, which had Tandy Corp. entering the Canadian leathercraft market.

In 1963, the Boston-based RadioShack was near bankruptcy.  Tandy saw the wisdom of diversifying from leather into electronics merchandising, with many of the business principles overlapping with selling project components.  Tandy gained management control of Radio Shack and owned 85 percent of outstanding Radio Shack common stock by 1965.  He grew the business the same way they had developed Tandy Leather; by growing their mailing list, publishing catalogs, and teaching.

As the Tandy Corp. grew, so did the city of Fort Worth.  The company’s investment into developing the area was largely responsible for the revitalization of downtown Fort Worth.  Charles Tandy also further progressed the Fort Worth Sales Executive Club, giving prestige and honor to what he believed to be the backbone of any successful company.

By 1975, Tandy Corp. had become exclusively an electronics company, having spun off all other operations into Tandycrafts, Tandy Brands, and numerous other businesses.

Charles Tandy Fort Worth

Fun Fact: In addition to Tandy Leather and Radio Shack, other companies that the Tandy brand was involved with included Wolfe Nursery, Joshua’s Christian Book Stores, Pier 1, Color Tile, Incredible Universe, Computer City, Merribee Art Embroidery Co., American Handicrafts, Stafford-Lowdon, Tex Tan Walhausen, Tex Tan Western, Hickok Manufacturing, J.M. Bucheimer, Western Sales, A&A International Trading Companies, Leonard’s Department Store, Tandy International Electronics, Tandy Electronics Manufacturing, and many others.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Leaders In Leathercraft: Dave Tandy

“Dave Tandy (1889-1966) was a man of vigor and vision, but above all, he was a salesman. The art of selling and merchandising was a game he loved and played his entire life.  Dave inspired his son Charles to share his enthusiasm for selling, and their merchandising innovations have been among the most important factors of our success.” – James L. West, Start on a Shoe String

Dave Tandy Leather

Dave Tandy grew up working on his father’s farm in the Rio Grande Valley and disliked the long hours and backbreaking work.  After graduating high school, he decided to take a job as a salesmen at a shoe store in Temple, Texas and enjoyed the opportunity to influence his own income.  In 1914, he took another job in the shoe-findings department of a business in Dallas, Texas, where his immediate supervisor was a gentleman named Norton Hinckley.  The two went on to begin their own shoe-findings business in Fort Worth, TX as the Hinckley-Tandy Leather Company in 1919.

Hinckley Tandy Leather

Hinckley and Tandy were a good pair.  Hinckley was quiet and methodical, overseeing most of the internal operations, whereas Tandy was charming and ambitious, championing the sales end of the operation.  To help get the business’ name in the community, Tandy became an advocate for Fort Worth and was elected the Vice President and Director of the Chamber of Commerce.  He was also one of the organizers and first presidents of the Fort Worth Sales Executive Club.  Despite his community activism, times were still tough in the shoe findings business.

The company continued to struggle up until outbreak of World War II.  Leather became a vital part of the war effort, most of which was being purchased by the government.  Dave received a letter from his son Charles who was in the Navy and stationing in Hawaii at the time.  He mentioned how leathercrafts were being used in the base hospitals and that it might be venture for the business to consider.  Always one to find opportunity in challenge, Dave found that he could get priority for selling specialty leathers to the armed forces for therapeutic leathercraft programs.  These specialty leathers worked well for tooling handbags, belts, billfolds, and other piece goods, and that element of their business grew and became very profitable.

Tandy Leather Founder

When Charles Tandy returned from service in 1947, the Hinckley-Tandy Leather Company opened two pilot stores specializing in leathercraft. The began to go into two different directions and eventually split in 1950, with Norton Hinckley taking the shoe supply business and the Tandy family aggressively pursuing the leathercraft business.  Dave Tandy became the president of the fledgling Tandy Leather Company; his first vice presidents were Charles Tandy and Jim West.

The father and son duo worked quite well as a team.  Dave had 30 years of experience in the business and knew the merchandise whereas Charles was more keenly aware of what was happening in the marketplace and focused on expanding the leathercraft industry.  To help market the business, they developed a catalog and grew their mailing list by placing small ads in Popular Science magazine.

By 1954, the Tandy brand had extended to 67 stores in 36 states.  As Dave’s health began to become a concern and the chain continuing to grow more rapidly than he could have imagined, he began to relinquish more and more of the running of the business to Charles. In 1956, Dave Tandy retired as president, leaving the future of the leathercraft industry in the capable hands of his son Charles.

Tandy Leather Group

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Leaders In Leathercraft: Cliff Ketchum

Cliff Ketchum (1918 – 1984) approached leather carving as an art form, raising the bar of floral carving for many of his early contemporaries.  A true master of the swivel knife, Ketchum’s precise detail, impeccable style, and dedication to finesse made his work the envy of many.

Cliff Ketchum Charles Tandy

Growing up in Arizona, Cliff loved to watch the stampers at the Porter’s Saddlery.  When in high school, he began doing piece work at a rate of 35 cents an hour.  He apprenticed under Master Saddlemaker Luis Ringlero and managed to work his way through a year of college at the University of Arizona living off of his leatherwork.

At age 22, he briefly moved to California to start a saddle shop in San Fernando Valley Lichtenberger-Feruson stamping for Ed Gilmour when the war beckoned.  Ketchum joined the Army and served in the war effort from 1942 to 1946, before returning to the Los Angeles area where he started his own saddle shop with Art Hugenberger.

San Fernando Valley Saddlery

The San Fernando Valley Saddlery stamped saddles for the television and film industry, as well as a number of the Hollywood elite, including John Wayne, Gary Cooper, and Audie Murphey.  Stunt men prized his saddles, and many saddle makers apprenticed under Ketchum’s guidance, including Stohlman Award winner Verlane Desgrange.

Although a likable and laid back individual, Ketchum was a staunch businessman who knew the value of his work.  Some of the Hollywood shops tried to pit him against Ken Griffin to drive down prices, however the two organized local leatherworkers to compare prices and agree not to undercut each other.  Like Griffin, Ketchum was also a regular contributor to the early Doodle Pages produced by Craftool, regularly sharing insights and tips on mastering floral carving.

In his 30’s, the Los Angeles based Ketchum was invited to try his hand at acting.  Slim and tall, he often got cast in Western rolls and went on to appear in Gunsmoke, Tales of Wells Fargo, 77 Sunset Strip, Pork Chop Hill, and The Young Land.

Cliff Ketchum Journal

Fun Fact: As a young man, legendary saddlemaker Don King spent some time cowboying around Arizona.  One of King’s regular stops was Porter’s Saddle Shop, where an 18 year old Cliff Ketchum first encouraged him to try his hand at leatherworking.

Multiple images in this article are attributed to the The Leather Craftsman Magazine.


Friday, 27 May 2016

Military Heroes’ Impact On Leathercraft

The history of Tandy Leather is closely tied with the men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces.

Charles Tandy enlisted into the military in the spring of 1941 when the Navy offered a limited number of commissions to students attending Harvard’s School of Business.  During his initial tour of duty in Hawaii, young Charles discovered how leather crafts were being used for therapeutic and recreational applications in the military hospitals.  He wrote to his father about his ideas of how to help stabilize and grow the Hinckley-Tandy Leather Company’s shoe supply business back in Fort Worth, Texas.

Charles Tandy Navy

With the outbreak of World War II, leather became vital to the war effort and was limited for civilian use.  Dave Tandy considered his son’s suggestions and found that specialty leathers that were still available worked nicely for tooling small projects.  The company began providing resources for therapeutic leathercraft programs in hospitals, military recreation centers, and for rehabilitation.

Al Stohlman and many of the other early pioneers of leathercraft were veterans who began tinkering with leather during their tours of duty and paved the way for the leathercraft industry upon their discharge.

“Back then a lot of the military gear was made with leather, so it was fairly common that soldiers learned to repair or customize their own leather gear,” said Charlie Davenport, Tandy Leather’s Director of Research & Development, who served as a Corporal in the Marine Corps Infantry during Desert Storm. “Many of these troops contributed to the developing popularity of leathercraft.”

Charlie Davenport Marine

Upon sharing their leather projects, often friends and relatives would want to know where they could learn.  Tandy became a popular destination for military families, many soldiers teaching their kids leathercraft while on leave.

“I was really introduced to leathercraft in high school by a teacher who had been a Colonel in WWII,” said George Hurst, who earned the rank of Sergeant First Class when working for the Army Security Agency during the Korean War.  “I was very thankful to have access to leathercraft during my time in the military.  Working with leather provided a creative outlet during leisure time; it felt more productive than playing cards or watching old movies, and often I’d turn a profit on reselling my projects”

George Hurst Army

Hurst also remembers the impact that leathercraft had on long-term care patients, such as military hospitals and VA facilities.  It has traditionally been used in both physical therapy to rehabilitate motor skills and mental therapy to provide a task to keep their mind focused.  In both cases, leathercraft has often been useful in fighting the onset of depression and anxiety in patients by providing a sense of value and productivity.

“My personal story about military experience and leathercraft are probably different from most folks,” said Van Woodruff, retired Army Sergeant First Class. “In 2008, I was diagnosed with OCD; not the ‘attention to detail’ kind, but rather a condition that made me extremely reclusive.  I was medically retired in March 2014 after 13 years of service, but leatherworking has been my personal salvation, providing me with an outlet since 2009.”

Having seen the countless certificates and plaques on superior officer’s Glory Walls, he wanted to create something that would stand out and be unique.  Now Woodruff works full time in his leathershop, creating projects he refers to as “Leather Biographies”; framed pieces of custom leather art that share the story of the soldier’s military experience.

Van Woodruff Leathercraft

To many of our employees and customers at Tandy Leather, Memorial Day is much more than just a day off to celebrate with family; we observe this day in remembrance of those who sacrificed so we have the freedom to celebrate.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Leaders In Leathercraft: Ken Griffin

Ken Griffin (1914-1988) was a key contributor to the birth of the modern age of leathercraft, helping bridge the gap between an era of vocational leatherworkers to a craft that is available and accessible to the leather hobbyist around the world.  A renowned master of his time, Griffin’s handmade stamps served as the models for many of the original Craftools. His books and his introduction of the Doodle Page helped teach the masses the love of leathercraft.  His success in the leatherworking industry provided Griffin the opportunity to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a magician, also earning he and his wife global notoriety in a second vocation.

Born in Magnum, Oklahoma, Ken Griffin was the youngest of 10.  When he was young, Ken loved to draw and read, his favorite being Western Americana.  He took his first job on a ranch in Deming, New Mexico as a Cowboy for the summer when he was fourteen and spent his summers rodeoing and working on ranches.

Ken Griffin Leathercraft

Ken regularly visited a local saddle shop for leather goods or to get his saddle repaired and always admired the hand carved leatherwork.  The shop owner offered him a job and taught him to build saddles, repair harnesses, and stamp leather.  Ken went on to work for a number of other saddle shops, eventually finding himself working for Hollywood’s Ed Bohlin, “Saddle Maker to the Stars”.

Ken began commissioning small piece work in the evenings, which evolved into a small manufacturing business.  The shop he was working with hired a young local actress named Roberta to wear their products out to shows and meetings to promote the business, and Ken began teaching the new shop assistant about working with leather.  Not long after, Ken and Roberta had planned to marry.

The manufacturing business began to grow and Ken oversaw the manufacturing team.  Ken continued to fulfill specialty commissions for Ed Bohlin as well as creating pieces for some of Hollywood biggest stars including Clark Gable, Robert Taylor, Sammy Davis, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers.  He became running buddies with legendary saddlemaker F.O. Baird, and began to organize the local stampers to make agreements to never undercut each other’s prices.  Many attended, however some artisans such as Al Shelton had a tendency to keep to themselves.  Young Al Stohlman was just starting out and was more dependent on special orders; no one considered him a threat at that time.  He was a good artist, but the group jested “Do you think he’ll ever learn to stamp?”

Ken Griffin Leather Carving

Ken found it more lucrative to stamp commissioned pieces rather than producing finished goods, so the majority of his work was on consignment from local leather shops.  In addition to raising their 5 children, Roberta became the pick-up and delivery person for merchandise.  She also began taking classes on lacing and braiding from Joey Smith, bringing another feature to their family leather business.

During that time, saddle makers and carvers thought “crafty” stampers where a flash in the pan; however, Dave Tandy did not.  When Dave started his craft store devoted to leather hobbyists rather than professionals, the first Tandy catalog cover featured a carved border of Ken’s stamping that had been designed as a belt pattern.  Ken admired the creativity that leather hobbyists brought to leatherworking, becoming good friends with early leather innovators from Southern California such as Christine Stanley, Lou Roth, and Cliff Ketchum.

Ken had always designed his own stamping tools and attracted the attention of Dick McGahen.  When McGahen founded the Craftool Company, Ken’s tools became the models for the original Craftool stamps.  One afternoon, McGahen was contemplating how to advertise the new stamping tools, to which Ken suggested that perhaps they put sketches in each flyer that will show how to use a particular tool.  “Call it a Doodle Page, or something like that.”

Ken Griffin Doodle Page

Ken created many of the original Doodle Pages, as well as writing The Ken Griffin Scrapbook and Art of Leather Carving  that were sold by the Craftool Co.  He is also responsible for coming up with the idea for the Lucky Seven starter kit and the Lucky Eight Belt Book features an original Ken Griffin foto-carve belt pattern.

Ken always secretly loved magic and even carried cards in his pocket as a young cowboy to practice card manipulations.  With his success in the leather industry, he was afforded the opportunity to pursue his lifelong dream of being a magician.  The Griffin’s sold their house and hit the road as a family, all of whom worked for their show,“Navo, American Indian Magician”.  During their tours, the Griffins would visit leatherworkers around the United States and Roberta would regularly share industry updates in her column Leather Skivings published in The Craftsman magazine.

Ken and Roberta Griffin Magician

The family toured around the country, teaching the children through distance learning programs, until the oldest were approaching high school in the mid-1950’s.  Having shared his talents at a vast number of different saddlery’s during their Summers, Ken had his pick of where to settle down.  The first on his list was the Miles City Saddlery in Miles City, Montana.  Owner Joe Conway excitedly invited him to make Miles City his home.

After the children had graduated, Ken and Roberta hit the road again with their magic act, “The Ken Griffin Show”.  The show featured scenery, props, and costumes, becoming one of the largest of its kind in the US at that time.  The pair spent the rest of their lives touring as a magic act, being featured on the Ed Sullivan show and performing in at least 8 USO tours.


Fun Fact: Ken and Roberta Griffin were awarded the Al Stohlman Award for Achievement in Leathercraft in 1984 for their contributions to the leather industry.  They were also honored with the Award of Merit by the Academy of Magical Arts in 1979.

Fun Fact: Some of Ken Griffin’s original Doodle Page carvings from the late 40’s and early 50’s are on display at the Tandy Leather Museum & Gallery.

Ken and Roberta Griffin

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Leaders In Leathercraft: Al Shelton

Al Shelton (1920-2016) was known affectionately as the “Cowboy Artist to the Stars” for his decades of artistry within the Hollywood community.  In his iconic leather workshop on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, California, Shelton created carved leather works for celebrities such as Clark Gable, Burt Reynolds, President Ronald Reagan, and many others.  Throughout his career, Shelton openly shared his wealth of knowledge in leathercraft and influenced generations upon generations of industry leaders.

Al Shelton Stohlman Award

Born in 1920, Al Shelton was raised by his father in a humble and hardworking family in Akron, Colorado.  As a teen, Shelton contracted scarlet fever, which lead to his dropping out of school at the age of 15.  He had always admired the culture of the cowboy, so he set off two years later to try his hand in the trade.

Shelton went on to work as a cowboy in Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska over the next three and a half years.  Although most of the saddles he saw were rather plain, the occasional ornate saddle he would come across fascinated him and he wanted to teach himself how it was done.  He decided to decorate his own saddle, however he did not realize that the background was embossed, so he used broken razor blades to shave down the leather to get depth and used nails to make designs.  It was not the lavish effect he had hoped for.

After his stint as a cowboy, Shelton took a job at an auction yard in Denver for a few years.  At the age of 23, he wandered into the Powder River Saddlery to simply have a look around and take in the aroma of leather.  After talking to employees about the craft, Shelton found himself with an instruction book, a handful of tools, and several scraps of leather.  It quickly became his favorite past time and, after only 3 months of practice, he was offered a job at the saddlery as an apprentice.  He was anxious to prove himself and began trying a little too hard.  The foreman’s advice stuck with him; “Al, you’ll have to slow down!  Learn to do your work good first… speed will come later.”

Al Shelton Signature Leathercraft

After nearly a year with the saddlery, Shelton decided to trek out West towards California where he dreamed of working on the fancy silver mounted saddles done by Edward H. Bohlin Saddlery in Hollywood.  He worked over the next year at several saddle shops, learning different techniques from each and developing his own style.

Shelton decided to become a freelance leather artisan in 1945 and started his own business.  He had a booth making and selling leather goods in Hollywood’s Farmers Market, where hundreds of sight seers daily would watch and ask questions about leathercraft while he worked.  After 5 years, he moved to his studio in Studio City, California where he enjoyed a little more solitude to be able to focus on his work.

Shelton also began teaching around this time.  While instructing the likes of Lou Roth at Pacific Arts and Crafts, Shelton began collaborating with Dick McGahen of the Craftool Company to publish a number of Doodle Pages and a pattern book.  Operation Leather Carving was released in 1950, which featured a variety of floral patterns that highlighted Shelton’s style of flowing lines and intricate leaves and flowers.

Al Shelton Tandy Leather Doodle Page

Throughout his career, Shelton became well known within the Hollywood community, expertly crafting director’s chairs, script covers, briefcases, belts, belt buckles, watchbands, and a plethora of other leather goods for films, television, and the Hollywood elite.  His designs were featured on album covers for Western artists such as Patsy Cline and his work has been displayed in prominent museums throughout the world, including the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Los Angeles.

Regardless of his success, Shelton remained humble and dedicated himself to teaching others.  His life work included the publication of well over 100 how-to articles in leathercraft magazines, most notably his “Tricks of the Trade” series.  In 2004, Shelton was awarded the prestigious Al Stohlman Award for Achievement In Leathercraft.

Al Shelton Tricks Of The Trade

Fun Fact: In addition to leathercraft, Shelton taught himself bronze sculpting, oil painting, and water color painting.  Although he kept himself too busy to self-promote much, his business cards were hand painted with water colors.

Multiple images in this article are attributed to the Leather Crafters and Saddler’s Journal and Make It With Leather Magazine.


Monday, 14 March 2016

Leaders In Leathercraft: Ann Stohlman

Ann Stohlman (1924-2004) was a keystone in establishing the foundation of modern leathercraft.   Collaborating with her husband Al Stohlman, Ann assisted with leather projects, typed manuscripts, and produced many of the books that are still the best leatherworking resources available today.

Leaders In Leathercraft: Ann Stohlman

Born Ann Lloyd, she grew up on logging camps with her father in Oregon and northern California.  He taught her how to chop wood, use fire arms, hunt, fish, cut meat, and other things necessary for surviving harsh winters.  Ann was said to have shot her first deer at age 9.

In the Spring of 1963, Ann met some friends at the Big Creek Lodge for a weekend of fishing.  When she arrived, there was a lot of excitement about someone doing leathercraft demonstrations there that evening, which she didn’t have much interest in attending.  “Don’t you know who Al Stohlman is?” they asked, to which she replied, “No, and I bet he doesn’t know who Ann McDonald is!”

She joined her friends at the demonstration, which was followed by Al playing guitar and sharing stories about the war.  The two spent the next day fishing together, and then continued to correspond through mail after parting ways.  Al visited Ann in San Francisco one weekend and they discovered that they quite enjoyed each other’s company.  Shortly after, the two were married that August in Tijuana, Mexico.

Leaders In Leathercraft: Ann Stohlman

When first wed, Al was still making saddles on his ranch in Hemet, California.  His work was very popular and he was having trouble keeping up with orders, so Ann insisted that Al teach her so she could help.  Within three years, Ann was making saddles all by herself, including the cutting, fitting, carving, dyeing, sewing, and finishing.  Ann preferred realistic designs of flowers and oak leaves for her saddles rather than the acanthus leaves and swirls that Al favored, which she referred to as “Texas cabbage”.

As they worked together, they taught each other the skills they had individually learned growing up.  Al taught her how to play guitar, read music, ride a horse, use a lariat, and the necessary things to know around the ranch.  Ann taught Al how to improve his cooking, fish, hunt big game, and how to butcher and package meat for the winter.  Anything they didn’t know how to do individually, they would study together at the library.

Leaders In Leathercraft: Ann Stohlman

Southern California became too crowded to suit them, so the couple bought a 200-acre ranch in Cache Creek, British Columbia and moved there in 1969.  Although they continued their saddle business, they shifted their concentration on getting their knowledge into print while they were still able.  Together, they published over 30 how-to books on working with leather, as well as three expansive books on saddle making.

Ann Stohlman’s legacy lives on through the Ann Stohlman Youth Award for Achievement in Leathercraft that was establish in 1994 through the Al & Ann Stohlman Award Foundation.  To date, more then 40 Ann Stohlman Youth Awards have been granted to participants under the age of 19 who demonstrate their aptitude in working with leather and are willing to share their talents with others.


Leaders In Leathercraft: Ann Stohlman

Fun Fact: Ann would often make identical shirts, pants, vests, and jackets for she and Al, which they wore in matching pairs virtually every day. 

Monday, 8 February 2016

Leaders In Leathercraft: Oliver Sturdy

Oliver “Ollie” Sturdy (1911-1997) was a well-respected machinist, highly-recognized for his ability and quality workmanship, who served as the manufacturing arm of a budding Craftool Company.

Oliver "Ollie" Sturdy of the Craftool Co.

Oliver Sturdy moved to Los Angeles in his early teens and was self-taught when it came to creating metal tools.  He was running a small machine shop out of his garage when he first met Dick McGahen, who approached Sturdy with a hand full of saddle stamps and inquired if he would be interested in making some.  Sturdy told McGahen, “I don’t want to get involved with a lot of experimental work.  How many of these do you think we want to make?” to which McGahen replied, “Well, I don’t have a crystal ball, but we might make 5,000 of them.”  Sturdy laughed, “There aren’t 5,000 people in the country who would buy those things!”

At the time, McGahen’s Craftool Company had employed Ellis Barnes, Ken Griffin, and a number of others who had been hand-making tools and could not keep up with the high volume being purchased by the Tandy Leather Company.  Sturdy enjoyed a challenge, so he took the job and subcontracted for Craftool as the  Sturdy Die & Machine Company.  He put his heart and soul in to machining stamps for the Craftool Company and managed the production end for McGahen.

Sturdy was also a hobbyist pilot and would occasionally fly to Hemet, California to visit Al Stohlman, who was designing many of the stamps for Craftool.  Stohlman did not have a phone, so Sturdy would fly over Stohlman’s house to let him know that he’d like to meet with him.  If Stohlman wanted to talk to Sturdy, he’d lay out two logs parallel to one another and Sturdy would land.  If not, Stohlman would lay the logs out in an X, and Sturdy would return another time.

The collection of Oliver Sturdy's original Craftool stamps is on display at the Tandy Leather Museum & Gallery

The collection of Oliver Sturdy’s original Craftool master stamps is on display at the Tandy Leather Museum & Gallery

In May of 1958, Sturdy was approached with a business proposition yet again; however this time by Charles Tandy, Jim West, and Luther Henderson of the Tandy Leather Company.  Sturdy sold his business to Tandy Leather and the Sturdy Die & Machine Company became Craftool Manufacturing in March of 1961, and Sturdy moved to Fort Worth in August of 1962 to serve as the General Manager of the new manufacturing division.

The Craftool Company continued under his management until 1967, when Ollie developed and began managing Tandy Machine Tooling Company.  With this company, Ollie was able to create and manufacture special tools and equipment for various divisions of the Tandy Corporation, including the Tandy Factory, Craftool, and Textan.

Oliver "Ollie" Sturdy of the Craftool Co.

Leaving Craftool in the able hands of Fred Absher, Sturdy retired in 1972.  His retirement allowed him the opportunity to fly his private plane with family and friends as well as to travel the Pacific Northwest extensively with his wife, Juanita.


Fun Fact: Although rare, tool collectors may come across a stamping tool marked “Sturdy” accompanied by a rusty mark that reads “Craftool”.  The very first run of stamping tools Oliver Sturdy produced had “Sturdy” printed on them rather than Craftool.  McGahen insisted that future tools not be identified by maker, but rather simply read “Craftool” instead.  He had Sturdy add “Craftool” to the first run of “Sturdy” stamps, however it was added after they had already been chrome plated, so the Craftool mark was never sealed. 

Oliver Sturdy original leathercraft stamp