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.
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.
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.
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.
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.