Fine Leather Hand Made in Vermont

Ken Amann
Credit Card Wallet

My work is rooted in the utilitarian values of my upbringing and the wonderful practical aesthetic of rural Vermonters.

For most of my life I remember wondering why anyone would buy a teapot that looks artistic but can't pour well or a briefcase, for that matter, that quickly stretches out of shape and hides its contents from the user. Utility and durability have always been important components of my artistic approach. I believe these practical concerns are essential components of the craft tradition. It is important that an item well made give the user long, durable service. Fine leather goods (like a well fit shoe) grow to be good friends with use and indeed, their utility actually improves as the item better fits with time. I remember one recent craft show when a young man approached me with a wallet that his father had purchased from me many years earlier. It seems that the young man's father had recently passed away and his son, recalling the pleasure that the wallet had given his dad, pressed it into his own service.

Hand made means different things ...

... in different craft mediums. In leather work, the first "hand made" step is selecting leather that is well suited to the purpose intended. The selection of leather involves many senses developed through experience over the years. For example, my belts are cut from bridle cowhide that is "hot stuffed" with extra natural tallow to add improved flexibility and the delightful "waxy" hand and aroma people associate with a new English saddle. Straps are cut from the hide in lengthwise fashion to take advantage of the tighter fiber structure of the center portion of the hide and thereby limit stretch that would otherwise come with many years of use. I hand select all my leathers and generally take a week long trip each year to visit tanners and talk with them first hand about new improvements. The tanning of leather is disappearing in this country and the craft of leather work is now heavily concentrated among the Amish. Many of my supplies are from Amish areas in Pennsylvania and Ohio that I visit. The buckles and findings I use are typically derived from harness applications with attendant durability. I remain indebted to the Amish craftsmen who have shared their skill with me over the years.

Hand made in Vermont implies...

... that the work incorporates the values of my community and neighbors as well. I will occasionally utilize a device called a "harness stitching horse" to facilitate the hand sewing of heavy leather items. It is essentially a clamp that provides an extra set of hands. A favorite of mine, this horse was purchased in a local antique store and predates the Civil War. When I use it to demonstrate at craft shows, I sometimes hear from my third generation neighbors that "my grandfather left one of those in the barn". Sometimes, if I am lucky, they will share construction tips passed down through their families. I give their input the full respect it deserves and happily add it to the collective process called skill development.

So, my view of "Hand Made in Vermont" implies a rich appreciation of the Yankee traditions of proud handwork and practicality. I greatly enjoy selling a bridle leather belt to a local Vermonter. They run it through their calloused hands, give it a quick flex and a longer nose test to ensure its proper dressing (currying) features and buy it with a confidence born of collective experience. For a Vermont craftsman, there can be no more sincere compliment.

Mad River Valley

The beautiful Mad River Valley of Vermont