Monday, 3 August 2015

Leaders In Leathercraft: Lou Roth

Lou Roth (1913 – 2003) was an artist and innovator from California who created the Craftaid, which has made leather carving easier for generations of people to get in to the hobby of leather crafting.

Lou Roth Leathercraft Craftool

Growing up in Los Angeles, his father was a master woodworker who worked at a furniture company.  He was very supportive of Lou’s art and encouraged him to make drawings every day.  At a young age, Lou began working with his father at the furniture factory and would work every day after school.  He had the opportunity to work in every department of furniture manufacturing and was fascinated by the machines and the industrialized process.

Lou Roth Leathercraft Craftool

In 1926, Roth entered college and majored in Architecture and Fine Arts.  After graduation he worked in architecture, art direction in film, and designing furniture for his family’s business before retiring at age 49.  He later joined the Research & Development team for Tandy Leather Company where he invented a number of modern leathercraft tools, including the alphabet set, the skiver, and the Craftaid.

Roth discovered leatherwork in 1949 when he visited Pacific Arts and Crafts in Southern California with his son.  He was fascinated by the beautiful looking leathercraft tools and store owner James Gick showed him samples of decoratively carved leather.  After several independent attempts, Roth decided to take a leather class at Gick’s hobby store taught by Al Shelton.

Lou Roth Teaching Leathercraft Group

Before he knew it, Roth was the star pupil and began teaching classes.  He noticed that when teaching his students, it would take most of the class time making a tracing pattern and transferring it to the leather.  He knew that professional carvers had a method of transferring a pattern from one piece of leather to another and thought he might be able to industrialize the process.  Roth had been dabbling with his new plastic laminating press, which inspired his method of creating a raised pattern on the plastic that could be easily transferred to leather.

Dick McGahen was a occasional visitor of the classes and, when he saw the opportunity presented with the plastic engraving sheet, he invited Roth, Gick and T. Joey Smith (Gick’s business partner) to form a corporation to manufacture these “Craftaids” through the Craftool Company.  Over the years, they hired a variety of different leather artists to help design new Craftaids, including a young Al Stohlman.

Fun Fact: The students of the Pacific Arts and Crafts leather class became more of a friendly group of leather crafters and eventually evolved in to The Leather Guild, the first of the modern leather guilds.

Christine Stanley with Lou Roth

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