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’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.
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.
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.
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.