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Jim Gick (1917-1993) assisted in the development of modern leathercraft through Pacific Arts & Crafts, his involvement with the creation of the Craftaid, and his contributions to the general craft industry.
Jim Gick initially discovered a love for crafting when visiting the USO while serving in WWII. After the war, he was so enthralled with producing handmade projects that he and his brother-in-law, Al Pauly, opened the Pacific Model Supply in Southern California in 1947. As interest in the business grew, the store expanded in to the Pacific Arts & Crafts in 1950. Here they taught leathercraft, copper tooling, plaster painting, model airplanes and cars, crepe paper, and more. The classes were very popular, often filling the store with eager onlookers wanting to learn. Even with the addition of a ceramic studio and a complete wood shop, leathercraft still accounted for 50% of the business.
Gick decided to put more focus on the leather end of the business and bought out Pauly to bring in leather carving expert Joey Smith as a partner and an instructor. Their classes brought a lot of attention to leathercraft, catching the attention of leathercrafters such as Al Shelton, as well as artist and inventor Lou Roth. After innovating a plastic engraving sheet to help apply patterns on to leather to expedite teaching, Roth, Gick, Smith, Al Stohlman and Dick McGahen started a company to manufacture these new “Craftaids” through the Craftool Company.
Pacific Arts & Crafts also became a popular gathering place for leather artists of Southern California. These craftsmen would actively do demonstrations and often meet socially, in time developing a formal leathercraft guild. The Leather Guild paved the way for future leathercraft guilds and included prominent names such as Al Stohlman, Ken Griffin, Christine Stanley, Ladd Harverty, Cliff Ketchum, and many other well-known leather artisans.
Gick enjoyed teaching so much that he wanted to expand his business and begin transferring his knowledge of crafts to paper. He began photographing step-by-step instructions for crafting which he then would add more detailed lesson in text, lead to publishing several crafting books as Gick Enterprise.
After publishing some of his first books, Gick joined the Tandy group in 1960 and moved to Fort Worth as the Assistant General Manager of the American Handicraft Division. After two years, he was promoted to Merchandising Manager of Tandy Leather Co. where he was responsible for handling merchandising for Tandy Leather Co., American Handicraft stores, and the Craftool Co.
In 1965, Gick returned to California to help open additional American Handcraft stores, and spent the next few years developing various craft brands before deciding to return to publishing under Gick Publishing Inc., eventually retiring in 1979.
Tandy Leather would like to extend a special “Thank You” to Jim Gick’s son, James Gick, for sharing photographs and biographical information about his father.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Multiple images in this article are attributed to the The Craftsman Magazine.
Dick McGahen founded the Craftool Company in 1947 with an aspiration to introduce leatherworking tools that could be afforded by millions. At that time, stamping tools were made individually by hand and were very expensive; not something a hobbyist could afford.
McGahen approached Oliver Sturdy, a tool machinist based out of Los Angeles, to create the first set of Craftool stamps. He brought Sturdy a handful of saddle stamping tools and asked if he could replicate them. His initial order was 5,000 sets of tools, to which Sturdy balked that “There aren’t 5,000 people in the country who would buy those things.”
Fortunately for Craftool Company, leathercraft caught on and business boomed. With the help of leather carvers, engineers, artists, and other technicians, the Craftool Company created a business where none had ever existed before. Many of the very first Craftool stamps were based off of tools designed by saddle maker Ken Griffin from Southern California. McGahen knew that you couldn’t just sell tools and supplies; you had to teach the world how to do leathercraft. He collaborated with Griffin on low cost ways to encourage practice and the concept of Doodle Page was born.
In 1952, a young California leather artist caught McGahen’s attention with leather carving of a palomino wearing an ornate saddle. Al Stohlman was hired by McGahen to design leatherworking tools and write publications for the Craftool Company. Stohlman began earning national attention through Craftool Company with his first publication, “How To Carve Leather”.
Another major contributor to the early Craftool Company was an inventor named Lou Roth. He is credited with creating the modern skiving knives, adjustable V gouge, and a number of other tools that we still use today. Roth was also the creator of the Craftaid.
The Craftool Company was bought by Tandy Leather in 1959 and was moved to Fort Worth, TX in 1962. Craftool stamps still serve the same purpose that they did at their inception: to provide leatherworking tools at an affordable price to introduce new people to the love of leathercraft.
The Craftools of today have benefited from technological advances. Hand grinding tools is labor intensive, expensive, inconsistent, and a very time consuming process. To keep up with the demand for affordable stamping tools, die casting and cold stamping are now used to produce uniformly designed tools.
In 2013, Tandy Leather also introduced the Craftool Pro Series to offer handcrafted, stainless steel stamps for professional leatherworkers at an affordable price. Each tool goes through a 15 to 20 step crafting process to stand up to the demands of daily use and still give crisp and clean impressions every time.
Fun Fact: Many people try to determine the age and origin of a Craftool stamp by the numbering and labeling. Although modern Craftools have a letter and a number for identification (i.e. B893), the letter prefix was not introduced in the Tandy Leather catalog until 1963.
Over the years, the label on the tools has also changed a number of times, including Craftool, Craftool USA, and others. Although some believe that this is a way to identify the age of a tool, it is unlikely that all of the plates were changed at once. As the die casts for tools wore out, it is reasonable to assume that they were replaced with the updated labeling. The transition between different Craftool labeling likely happened over the course of many years.
Original Doodle Pages by Ken Griffin, Al Stohlman and many others are still available through the Leathercraft Library!
Ben Moody (1920-2005) was a respected teacher and an award-winning leather crafter who received the Al Stohlman award in 1992 for nearly 70 years of teaching leathercraft.
Ben grew up a native of East Texas and was raised around leather. His father was a cobbler who owned his own shoe shop and did business with Dave Tandy during the Tandy-Hinkley days. Ben often ran around the leather warehouse with young Charles Tandy while their fathers were conducting business.
Much of his early enthusiasm for leathercraft came from Solon Aaron, a German gentlemen who worked in the family’s shop. Mr. Aaron taught Ben how to carve belts and, every day after school, Ben would work in the shop and to make projects he had commissioned from schoolmates. By the time he was a teenager, Ben was making money doing leathercraft. In addition to his orders, he would pull around a painted cart and stamp names on belts that he would sell at events.
His mentor held him to a high standard for his craft; however, he also encouraged Ben’s creativity by letting him use butcher paper to practice art. Ben was always very artistic and was not only ambidextrous, but could draw with both hands at the same time.
Ben joined the war effort when he was 20 and went on active duty in the military. He served as part of the 112th Cavalry in World War II, where he had many duties including cartography, however also volunteered to help with repairing the saddles because he loved working with leather. His unit served in the South Pacific, however he got malaria and had to be brought back to the Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio before the end of the war. There, he taught leathercraft to other soldiers who were also in the hospital.
Ben won international army craft contests two consecutive years for different leather projects and retired from the military in 1960 at the age of 40. After returning home to Texas, Ben wrote Tandy about returning to the states, mentioning his leathercraft awards and that he might like to work at the Tandy store in Austin. After being hired, management recognized his work ethic and, before long, Ben was recruited to help open a store for Tandy’s new venture: Radio Shack.
He loved helping develop the new brand and worked 7 days a week to help get it off the ground. His genuine caring for helping others grew him a loyal customer base, and the new enterprise did quite well. In 1965, Ben and his wife had their second child and he left Radio Shack for the banking industry so spend more time with family.
Although no longer employed by the Tandy Corporation, Ben continued to be an active advocate for working with leather. He conducted leathercraft seminars at Southwestern Texas State University, 4-H, Scouts, Texas State School, Austin State School, Travis State School, State School for the Deaf, VA Hospitals and more. He was one of the go-to artists for both Tandy Leather and The Leather Factory, creating many doodle pages, pattern packs and books such as “Learn Leathercraft”.
Ben won the Al Stohlman Award in 1992; however this was not the only time he was part of the award ceremony. When working at the Austin Tandy store in the 60’s, he introduced many young artists to the love of leathercraft. One of those young men was Tony Laier, who went on to win the Al Stohlman Award in 1999. Although he had difficulty getting around by that time, Ben was insistent on attending the ceremony so he could personally honor him with the award.
Although most people recognize George for his YouTube videos, his history of teaching leathercraft with Tandy goes back over 50 years!
George grew up on a tomato farm in a small town in Pennsylvania and was introduced leathercraft in the Boy Scouts in his youth. He went on to serve in the military during the Korean war and, when he returned, was recommended by a neighbor to apply at Tandy Leather.
In June of 1961, George Hurst began his long and illustrious career in Leathercraft. As a manager, George introduced 1,000’s of people to leathercraft through teaching at schools and in hospitals.
Although he loved teaching classes, he aspired to help others learn the love of leathercraft on a larger scale. In 1972, George created a manual for teaching that he used to help introduce leathercraft in to schools. His innovative program was very successful and, several years later, George was offered a job in Fort Worth to lead the merchandising team. One of the first things he did in this position was help develop a formal school program called “Adventures in Leathercraft”.
George also pioneered the idea of using video in for teaching leathercraft in 1985 in a program he created to teach the basics of leatherwork in schools. The program became quite popular and was also sold in stores for a learning resource at home.
In 2009, George was brought back to the Tandy team to resume teaching with video through YouTube and on the LeathercraftLibrary. Since then, he has created hundreds of instructional videos that help teach the basics of leathercraft, how to properly use tools, and walk-throughs for creating leather projects.
Among George’s accolades include an Al Stohlman Award in 1992, Leather Artisan of the Year (Will Rodgers Memorial Award), Lifetime Achievement in Leathercraft, and the International Federation of Leather Guilds’ Hall of Fame Award.
“I’ve been a pretty blessed guy to get in to this business,” said George. “I’m 82, still working and loving every minute of it.”
Learn more about George Hurst in “An Interview With George Hurst”: