Despite the fact that I was an art major for a year, am a member of the Artisans’ Guild Gallery, and am named Art, I don’t consider myself an artist. I am a craftsman. Sometimes that bothers me, and I have urges to make things that have no function at all, just to brush up against the art world. I often think that “practical”, “usable”, or “functional” lessen the “art” in an object.
However, I most often find myself really enjoying the challenge of making something that works, is nice to use, is easy to use, and looks good. Wallets are the prototypical example of practicality. These are the things that we all made at summer camp and that Tandy leather sells kits for. I’ve hardly met a person who hasn’t made a wallet, often with fancy lacing on the edges.
With all of these wallets in the world, it is amazing to me that most wallets in stores are complete garbage, fall apart quickly, and are made of lousy materials. Like my belts, my wallets cost much more in materials than most wallets I can buy at even decent department stores. I use 100% kangaroo leather, which is some of the nicest leather I’ve ever seen. It is light, strong, and it develops a nice patina over time. I then hand stitch the entire thing. It takes me several hours to make one, and the stitching isn’t quite as perfect as a machine would make, but it lasts for a long time and looks like a real person did it. In short, it is a craft, and I like doing it.
I just spent the last week making 6 wallets. There are 2 more that I still need to sew together. This is as much of an “assembly line” as I ever manage to do. It definitely isn’t art, but there is a great satisfaction that I get in coordinating steps, having parts gluing and drying like parts of a symphony orchestra (or at least a country western band…). I usually sew while I listen to music or NPR. I tend to get in country western moods when I’m doing this work. Somehow Merle Haggard goes better with hand stitching than Bach.
While I was in the middle of these 6 wallets, I got a phone call out of the blue from a pilot who had a pilot friend that had one of my wallets from a few years ago. I don’t make a ton of these: I’ve probably sold 20-30 over the past few years. It was very satisfying to have him tell me how much he loved his friend’s wallet. He mentioned that he liked the look and also that it didn’t hurt his butt flying the plane. Sometimes that is about as much as a guy needs, and it is very satisfying to slowly stitch these for a few more people like him.
I’m sure that I’ll soon want to make things that are more esoteric and less practical, but there is a degree of satisfaction that you get when a pilot calls for one of your wallets to make his flights a bit easier….