Dear Mr. Alt-Right Terrorist

It’s not them, it’s you.

You see people who don’t look like you, and you think that they are taking something that belongs to you. You feel threatened with the change that is happening all around us. There are people with dark skin who are working and studying and saving and building, and that seems like a threat, especially when you feel that opportunities have been taken from you. There are people whose ancestors were slaves that are now saying that Black Lives Matter, and that upsets you. There are people who wear religious head scarves who are starting small businesses, earning degrees, and enjoying the fruits of our wonderful country, the melting pot. There are people who are speaking in different languages all around us, and that scares you.

Your ancestors were once those people.

When your people came to the United States, they saw an opportunity to work hard, to become educated, to have religious freedom, and to make a better life for their families. They understood hard work, and the earliest ones still remembered what it was like being hungry or oppressed because of what they believed.

The people who don’t look like you are still hungry to make a better life for themselves and their families.

You think they are taking jobs away from you, but you aren’t willing to do the work that many of them are doing. It is below you. They still recognize opportunity, but you have been comfortable for too many years, and you have forgotten how to feed yourself. You think that other people have taken away your jobs in coal mines or steel plants or other places where white men could make a living without needing an education.

The world has changed.

Many of the dark people that you fear the most are here earning degrees in the technologies that have replaced the coal mines as a good source of income. They recognize that to get ahead today, they need to learn how to program computers, build robots, discover new ways to cure human disease, or develop technologies that will allow world to survive with limited resources and many people, most of whom don’t look like you.

Don’t be fooled by our President.

Not only does he not have your interests in mind, he is promising a world that no longer exists. Maybe he will start a few new coal mines, but the people you fear will be the engineers designing it and making the robots to work it. There may be a few jobs for you and your friends, but they won’t be like the one that killed your grandfather at an early age. Without the education that you don’t yet recognize you need and are not prepared to get, you will be pushing the buttons on the robots but won’t understand how they work. Maybe our President will build more pipelines that carry oil, but most people will be soon driving cars that run on batteries or other technology that the hungry foreign people are learning to build.

Times have changed and you haven’t. That is your problem.

Fare thee well, Sam Shepard

When I saw the NYT notice on my iPad today, my heart sank. I didn’t know him, but my path crossed his a few times in Santa Fe, and since those encounters Sam Shepard has been part of my life for 35 years.

The first time I saw him, my girlfriend Katherine (soon to be wife of 35 years!) and I were eating lunch in at Josie’s, a restaurant in Santa Fe that was just off the plaza. I don’t remember much about it except that it wasn’t fancy and was filled with locals eating bowls of burning green chili and drinking black coffee. Katherine and I ordered a bowl of green chili, and that is what it was. No beans and meat, like we were used to but rather a tasty and HOT bowl of green chili with a few other things for good measure. It came with a tortilla, presumably to take the heat off, but the coffee was just too much for us after the chili… Then, Katherine nudged me and whispered “that’s Sam Shepard”. He was just a guy sitting at a small table by himself, wearing jeans and cowboy boots, and (probably) eating green chili. Nobody noticed or cared, and he looked completely relaxed.

A few years later, I was working in Cerrillos Saddlery, and my wife was working next door as a dog groomer where Jessica Lange brought her poodle to be groomed. A few days before Christmas that year, Sam Shepard walked into our shop wanting to buy a last minute gift for Jessica. Of course, we played it cool and pretended not to be impressed, but it was very exciting. I had just finished making a very nice snake skin belt with a silver tip set made by one of our collaborating silversmiths, and it caught Sam’s attention. He bought it. I don’t know if it ever fit her, but they didn’t bring it back for adjustments.


Around that time, I got interested in why Sam Shepard was so famous. I learned that not only was he a great actor but a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. I bought a collection of his plays and loved them. They are dark and interesting and seemed to me 30 years ago to cut to the essence of humanity and life. After today’s news of his death, I’m looking forward to rereading them.

Probably my favorite Sam Shepard story was from a neighbor of ours, who was a house cleaner. She told us about cleaning the house of a couple, and she figured that the man was out of work and a bit of a bum, because she’d always see him lounging around the house in his jeans and tee shirt. He’d get up late and would always be there, and except that they were living in a nice house, she felt a bit sorry for him. She didn’t know anything about Jessica Lange or Sam Shepard until one day she was dusting and saw Jessica’s Academy Award for Tootsie. I’m not sure that she knew until we told her that the bum was also an award winning writer and actor.

If you want a treat and to celebrate his life, read Fool For Love and then watch The Right Stuff. RIP Sam Shepard.


I recently spent an amazing four days taking lessons from Maximo “Machi” Prado, a master rawhide braider in Pergamino, Argentina. The gaucho braiders in the Pampas of Argentina produce the finest braiding imaginable, and Machi is among the best.


Machi outside of his shop. A soguero is a rawhide braider.

I have been braiding kangaroo leather for 30+ years, but I never got formal training in this. I learned everything from the “bible of braiding”, Bruce Grant’s Encyclopedia of Rawhide and Leather Braiding. I also never braided rawhide, which is very different than kangaroo. The best rawhide for the fine gaucho braiding in Argentina is made from horse, which is not readily available in the US. However, Machi tells me that deer and antelope both make excellent rawhide too. Cow is too heavy for the fine work.

Machi never finished high school but is one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. Not only is he incredibly skilled in the craft that I traveled to learn from him, but he reads a lot of history and has thoughtful perspectives on the politics of his country and the world. He speaks much better english than I speak spanish, despite many trips to South America and many years of effort to try to improve. He is also welcoming and generous with his knowledge and time. Even though he is a traditionalist in his craft and only uses traditional tools and materials, he likes to listen to Nirvana, Pink Floyd, jazz, and (of course!) Piazzolla in his shop.


Finished handle with special edition Pergamino blade. I made this with Machi’s careful and patient teaching.

If I had to summarize 40+ hours of intense one-on-one learning that I got with him, it is:


Every technique was vaguely familiar from my saddle working, but everything was different too. The skill I was most anxious about was cutting the lace, but that turns out to be quite easy. The difficult part is making the “guia”, which is hand made from a cow’s horn with a very sharp knife inserted at just the right angle to cut the lace the right width. Machi has 8 of these for different width strands, and he sent a cow’s horn home with me so that I can make my first. If this doesn’t work, he recommends teflon (though I’m sure that would never be seen in his shop!).


Cutting strands with a guia (guide), which is a cow horn with a sharp knife in the middle and guide slots cut into the horn

Out of everything that I learned–cutting lace, braiding a fancy knife handle, edge braiding, round braiding, flat braiding–the hardest for me was beveling. This is the procedure to cut the sharp edge from the front of a strand, which in fine work is often less than 1-mm in width. As Machi put it, you take the “hair of a woman” from the strand. There is no fancy tool or guia for beveling. It is just holding a guard leather over your left fingers, placing the strand under your thumb (gordo), and with a very sharp knife, cutting the edge.


Beveling: The left hand controls the angle and the right controls the blade.

Looks easy, right?? (just joking…) There are several things that are important in beveling: the left hand “shows me the edge” by tilting the right way; the thumbs of both hands touch to form a brace of sorts; and the knife just rides along the edge. But the most important step is to RELAX! It is harder than you might think, holding a tiny strand in one hand and a very sharp knife that is placed onto the (protected) fingers of your left hand.

My shoulders were tight, my stance was skewed, my hands were gripping so tight that I ended up with a small cut just from the pressure from the back of the knife. Machi would either say “relax” or (my favorite) “work comfortably”. The funny thing is that when everything relaxed, I could suddenly do it. It was like magic!

It was then that I started to realize once again some of the universal “truths” that seem to cover everything. When I was a young ice hockey player, I loved the book “Inner Tennis”. It talked about the need to quiet the mind and let the body do the work, such as return a 100+ mph serve. When you are tightening up extra muscles, you work against yourself and become less effective. This is the key to goaltending in ice hockey, to most other sports that I’ve played, to music, to drawing, and to tai chi and other martial arts. It even applies to science and education, where it is important to be able to see the big picture and to interpret data and observations with a quite mind. It is always important to relax, and the relaxed mind can accomplish a great deal just as a relaxed body to learn to bevel rawhide strings effectively.

In my next post reporting about this trip, I’ll show some of the key steps that went into making the knife handle. Stay tuned!


The Road to Pergamino

I’ve been traveling a lot recently for my job. It is hard to complain about going to nice places and meeting with interesting and smart people. In the past few months, I’ve gone to a conference at Penn State University, two different meetings in Washington DC, and a conference in Los Angeles. And now I’m writing this blog on a bus traveling from Buenos Aires to Pergamino, Argentina.

¡El camino hacia el pergamino!


I’m teaching students in Buenos Aires about the basics of NMR. My arms are the nuclei of atoms (if you couldn’t already tell…)

Last week I helped teach a metabolomics workshop to graduate students and postdocs in Buenos Aires. These are always fun but also a lot of work! I taught about 4 hours each day for the week and also spent extra time in the class meeting students and listening to other lectures. I’ve done several of these workshops over the years in different places, and no matter how much I prepare before, I’m always making last minute changes in my hotel room during the nights. Yes, I’m very lucky to be able to travel to one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Yes, I really enjoy the great restaurants and nice wine. But, it is hard work and can get very tiring. Normally, I’d be heading to the airport now to return home.

Five years ago my wife and I spent 6 weeks in Argentina on a trip sponsored by a Fulbright grant. Argentina has the best rawhide braiders in the world, and during that trip, I tried to arrange time in a workshop of a gaucho rawhide braiding expert, but I never was able to do it. My good friend Jorge, who hosted the last visit, has a brother who collects and shows gaucho equipment, and this time he found a master braider, Maximo (Machi) Prado, who would give me lessons.

maximo prado

AMAZING braiding art by my teacher in Pergamino, Maximo (Machi) Prado.

I’m now sitting in a bus listening to conversations in Spanish and some nice Argentinean music on someone’s boom box. I will soon meet Machi, and he will teach me gaucho rawhide braiding in his shop in Pergamino for the next 4 days! I couldn’t be happier or more excited! Stay tuned for updates.


A memoir of a friendship: Chapter 3

Chapter 2 of this series ended when Lynn and I rode our bicycles together from Santa Fe to some town near Kansas City. Lynn was traveling to St. Louis and I was traveling to Minneapolis. We had been classmates at St. John’s College and, for different reasons, had decided to drop out after our first year.

We had grown closer on the ride, which is not a surprise since we were with each other for about 10 hours of riding each day, followed by camping and eating. Even though we had been in every class together the preceding year, we did not know each other well before the ride.

When our paths diverged, I’m fairly certain that neither of us planned on returning to Santa Fe. At least from my perspective, it was unlikely that we’d see each other again. While I don’t remember the details, our goodbye was typical of 19-20 year old guys: “well, I guess I’ll see ya” or something similar.


Lynn made me the stitch horse and rubbing sticks. We saved a block of lignum vitae for more sticks in the future.

I took a year off, during which time I played in Minnesota, took another bicycle tour in Nova Scotia with another St. John’s friend, and landed back in Salt Lake City as a shoe repairman in Tip Top Shoe Repair and Moccasin Shop. During this time, I met my sweetie Katherine (we are celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary this August!). I loved shoe repair but also found myself wanting a bit more, so I talked Katherine into moving with me back to Santa Fe for my second year at St. John’s.

I don’t remember how long we were there before I ran into Lynn. Unlike me, he had not re-enrolled in St. John’s. I believe that he was still trespassed from campus. But we both felt the allure of Santa Fe and friends that we had made the previous year.

The first words that we said to each other were “how far did you get?” It was then that we discovered that we had each taken a bus the rest of the way to our destinations! I consider this moment the real start of our lifelong friendship.

I had caught the bug of working with my hands in a craft while I was at Tip Top, and I got a job in Square Deal Shoe Shop, another shoe repair and boot making shop in Santa Fe. It was then that I discovered that Lynn had spent much of the past year working with his Dad, Norm, in his woodworking shop. During this return year to St. John’s I saw just how much Lynn loved woodworking and craft in general. When he learned that I was a shoe repairman, our bond was set! Lynn introduced me to many things during those years: fine hand tools (we would read the Garrett Wade catalogue together), the love of a great dove-tail joint cut by hand, and his admiration for the finest craftsmen.

Needless to say, this was a distraction for me from studying Ancient Greek and reading Shakespeare and the bible. While I certainly don’t blame Lynn, he definitely reinforced my decision to become a saddle maker’s apprentice at the end of my second year of St. John’s.


Hand sewing using Lynn’s stitch horse

Saddle making requires many tools, and the most important tool in my shop has always been my stitch horse, where I sit while I hand stitch my work. My teacher/mentor, Mr. Ginder, had made himself a beautiful and very functional stitch horse, and he let Lynn make a copy of it. He made the clamps out of hard maple, the legs out of oak, and the seat a softer pine. This is my most cherished and important part of my shop. Every time that I sit down to stitch something, I think of Lynn.


Layout and rubbing into shape with Lynn’s rubbing sticks

Lynn also was fascinated by many of Mr. Ginder’s tools, especially his rubbing sticks. Saddle makers have a variety of objects that are used to form leather while it is wet. The best wood for these is (not cool to get these days…) iron wood or lignum vitae. I found a source and bought a big chunk, and Lynn turned me a few gorgeous rubbing sticks. He was upset with a crack in the bottom of the round mallet, but I also smile when I see it and think of him every time I use it.

I made myself a glasses case a few weeks ago, because with my aging eyes, I rotate 3 pairs of glasses (regular, sun, and computer). It is a pain to juggle these, so I finally made myself a case that I’ve made for many friends and people over the past 30 years. Making things like this by hand always remind me of Mr. Ginder and Lynn, and it is probably why I love doing it so much.

Finally, a decent iPhone case

I’ve been trying for years to make a case for an iPhone that I like. I have a good design for a belt holster-style case, but I’ve never been completely happy with a snug case that fits into a pocket. The difficulty is preventing bulk, putting in the needed accessibility for plugs, buttons, etc., and making it easy to get on and off. I managed to get a design that really only deals with bulk and doesn’t worry about buttons or getting it on and off, but it is my favorite so far.

The key was to make it in place. The problem is that the case won’t come off without cutting or unbraiding the sides. So it isn’t something I can really make for others, but that is ok, because I’m generally too busy to do much leatherwork these days. It is quite simple: a small top and bottom slip-on cover with the right holes and a few hand stitches to hold it in place. Then, I braided the top and bottom covers together along the side using either a 4 strand (7 case) or 6 strand (7 plus case) flat braid. I made the 7 plus first, and I now realize that the 4 strand is better because it is less bulky on the turn-back. I also made the mistake on the 7 plus case in putting the bulkier turn back on the top rather than bottom. This makes the case a bit harder to use, because the other “feature” is that there are no holes for the on-off, volume, or mute buttons. I realized that you don’t really need holes and that you can easily work these through a light piece of leather. But the added bulk of the braid should be on the bottom. The red 7 plus case was for my wife, and when I do a redo for her, I’ll fix those things and dye the kangaroo leather red per her request. That may need to wait for awhile until I get my next nice weekend in the shop!

A memoir of a friendship: Chapter 2

This is a continuation of Chapter 1 in the series.

I wasn’t a very good high school student. Nothing much excited me beyond ice hockey and the usual teenage boy distractions. So when I did not get accepted into some of the better hockey colleges, I wasn’t surprised. I had no plan “B”. I didn’t see much point in going to more school, so I took a year off. One of the memorable adventures that year was riding the Lewis and Clark Trail with my buddy Den Coello and his wife from Astoria, Oregon to St. Louis, Missouri. That was an amazing 45 days and a life-changing experience.


A skinny Art in the middle of the Lewis and Clark Trail bicycle ride. The dark patch on my rear end is the black dye from the bicycle saddle. Photo by Dennis Coello.


Just before the Lewis and Clark Trail, I decided to apply to St. John’s College. My best friend Joe from high school had gone there the year before, and it sounded great. On top of everything else, they were sympathetic to students with “non-traditional” paths and “non-traditional” grades and test scores.

This was the setting when I first met Lynn. When I got to St. John’s, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was intrigued by a traditional liberal arts and Great Books curriculum and still had the bug of a recent adventure on a bicycle.


Passport photo from 1981, which was about how I looked when I met Lynn at St. John’s.

St. John’s attracts a wide diversity of students, and from my perspective, I was one of the more traditional. I attended classes, almost always prepared, and I didn’t do much partying. The main thing I remember from those days was an intense focus on trying to figure out what was interesting to me. For several months, Joe and I regularly visited a beautiful Catholic Carmelite Monastery that was a short walk down an arroyo from St. John’s. I still remember fondly listening to the beautiful songs of cloistered nuns, smelling incense, and hearing latin in daily services. I would have converted if I had believed in god, but that was the part I couldn’t deal with.

I don’t recall the details about how Lynn and I started to connect, but by the end of our first year, neither of us planned on returning the following year. Nothing really grabbed me in school, even though I did enjoy the classes and books. I especially loved Euclid (and still do!). I think one difference between me and Lynn was that he had very little patience for things that didn’t interest him, so he gradually drifted away from his studies and classes. When he did participate in seminars, he would often discuss books that were not on our list. Nietzsche was his favorite, and he would regularly remind the class that “God is dead”. He would then be asked by the tutors to stay within the topic and not jump to books that we had not yet read.


Route that Lynn and I took to ride from St. John’s together.


Near the end of the year, Lynn and I were talking and trying to figure out what to do next. I still had the bicycling bug and wanted to visit my old friends in Minnesota, so I decided to ride my bike from Santa Fe to Minneapolis. When I told Lynn, we decided to ride together. We had about a week to prepare. I had my complete rig from the Lewis and Clark ride, but Lynn had to cobble things together. Without a single training ride, we took off together for Kansas City, MO. Then we would split up: Lynn would ride on to St. Louis, and I would ride to Minneapolis.

Santa Fe is about 7000′ above sea level, and there is quite a climb to cross the mountains around Taos and Angle Fire. The sun is also quite intense at that elevation in the early summer, and by the end of the first day, Lynn and I both had severe sun burns. We camped the whole way, and I think that if we hadn’t been completely exhausted from the climb, we would have never slept because of the pain of the sun burns. I have a fairly dark complexion, but Lynn was very fair, with his bright orange hair. He had the worst of it, but neither of us learned anything from the first burn. We thought that we were just conditioning ourselves and that after a few days it would be much better. Instead, after a few days we both peeled and reburned under the exposed patches. We then each had bright red spots with a background of color ranging from brown to a lighter red.

The memory that stays with me the most was riding through southeast Kansas, which before we got there sounded about as awful as I could have imagined. Boy, was I wrong! This was in the days without cell phones, and neither of us had a camera. I found this photo online in another blog post, and it captures the memory of that trip. Lynn and I were past the big mountains and our sunburns were healing. There were no cars for miles, and all we could hear was the wind softly blowing through the grass, which made the most beautiful “grass snakes” that I’ve ever seen. We didn’t talk, because we didn’t need to.

We rode together until we reached the fork in our paths near Kansas City. I went north; Lynn went east. Memories have faded for me, but we bonded on that ride, which must have taken about 2 weeks. I was sad to say goodbye, and neither of us knew if we’d ever see each other again.

A memoir of a friendship: Chapter 1

On Thursday, January 29, 2004 at about 8 pm, I watched my best friend die. It had been a cold and grey day in Madison, WI. I was with Lynn’s family in the hospital, and I felt lucky to be with them and also like an intruder on this most intimate moment.

Since this day, rarely a week passes that I don’t think of Lynn. I’ve been thinking about writing a book, and the title of this post is the best that I came up with. A combination of lack of time, confusion about our long friendship and what it meant to me, and not wanting to get details wrong are some of the reasons that I haven’t written it yet. And to channel Lynn’s likely response (with a grin and twinkle in his eye), “get off your high horse, you’ve just been a lazy ass!”

Recently through the wonders of the internet, one of Lynn’s high school buddies found me after finding an old post about about Lynn on this blog. I didn’t use his last name, but the combination of Lynn, St. John’s College, and who knows what else led Bruce to find me, and we realized that our Lynn was the same guy. A few weeks after connecting with Bruce, Lynn’s brother Wes contacted me after hearing from Bruce. Then a few days later, Lynn’s daughter reached out to me and wanted to learn more about her dad, so I decided to get off my ass and turn the phantom book into a series of blog posts.


Lynn and his daughter, Chuck.


Wes, Lynn (hat), Kaitlin (Wes’ daughter), Phyllis (Lynn’s mom), and Ivy (Lynn’s wife) at Mt. St. Helen’s on 7/19/87. Lynn’s caption on the back of the photo that he sent us is “examining a willow gall of erythroid mites”.

I first saw Lynn in the fall of 1979 at our matriculation into the 1983 class at St. John’s college. I remember clearly (though with some details a bit blurry now) an amazing-looking guy walking across the stage from the right to the left. He had bright red hair that hadn’t been combed in a long time. If he had been wearing shoes, they were his typical untied and beat-up sneakers that probably reeked for the people in the first few rows. The only other shoes I ever saw him wear back then were hiking boots. He was wearing baggy and very worn blue jeans that were too long and had holes worn by his walking on them. If he had been wearing a belt, it would have been a rope. He probably had on a tee-shirt. And I’m pretty certain that he had a worn paperback book in his back pocket, because I rarely saw him without that.


The Great Books

Many of us at least combed our hair for that important ceremony that would launch us into our quest to become philosophers. A month or so earlier, I had bought my entire set of books (THE Great Books) at a used book store in Salt Lake City, and I proudly had them on a book shelf in my dorm room. Lynn never had anything other than beat up paperbacks, not always Great Paperbacks.

St. John’s College is an amazing educational experience. Everyone starts as a freshman and goes through an identical curriculum using only the Great Books. You can’t transfer into St. John’s, because you would not have the shared experience. Professors are called “tutors”, and every tutor eventually teaches every class. Students develop a shared and very rich learning experience that grows over time. There are no tests, no grades, and (with a few exceptions in the final two years) no electives. The first year we read and discussed Homer, Euclid, Plato, Aristotle, Lavoisier, Copernicus, Ptolemy, and several others. We also studied ancient Greek. Our classes were small: about a dozen students with 1 or 2 (for seminar) tutors.

About 4-5 students end up in all the same classes together, and Lynn was in my group (I forgot the name for this group at St. John’s…). Given that this group would put us into contact for over 20 hours each week, I really didn’t see Lynn that often. When he was in class, he clearly had carefully read the book we were discussing as well as every book that he had missed. He always seemed a few steps ahead of most of the students (certainly me), even when he hadn’t attended. I’m not sure where he was when he wasn’t in class because at the time I didn’t know him very well. It was probably a combination of hung-over, hiking/camping, building things, or reading things that were more interesting to him.

We got to know each other more towards the end of the year, and we were united by the common bond that neither of us was returning the following year. Lynn was “trespassed” from campus, and I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. When school ended, Lynn was returning home to St. Louis and I was going to visit friends in Minnesota. So we did the logical thing: with virtually no planning or preparation, we got on our bicycles to ride to our respective destinations from Santa Fe. That was the real start of our friendship.

Stay tuned…


I’m a Conservative

As usual these days, it has been a long time since my last post. Yes, I was busy with work. Yes, I was traveling a lot. Yes, I hadn’t had much time in my shop…

But this time, there is a more honest excuse. The US presidential election has gotten me down. I voted early and was traveling in Zurich, Switzerland when Trump won the election. Just hours after Hillary’s concession speech, I was having lunch with my collaborators and expressing my disbelief. My Swiss host then told me a saying that stuck with me and provided some comfort:

The coffee is never drunk as hot as it is made.

Since the election, I’ve been thinking about many things, and the common thread is that I now realize that I’m a conservative. No, I didn’t vote for Trump, but he isn’t a conservative. In fact, I’ve never voted for a republican presidential candidate, because I don’t think that I’ve seen a conservative in that party. I want to help conserve the earth, because it is all we’ve got.

I’m a scientist and am very concerned about climate change. Even after the progress made in the last several years in world awareness, I am very worried about where we are heading. Now that we have elected a president who denies climate change and wants to reverse environmental laws, things are only going to get worse.

What can I do? It is hard to know how to deal with such a huge problem that goes beyond our own houses, towns, states, and countries. My wife and I decided after the election to lease an electric vehicle. We have been thinking about doing this for a few years, and I discovered that President Obama has significantly enhanced the electric vehicle infrastructure through the Department of Energy. The Union of Concerned Scientists have published a very comprehensive analysis of the climate change benefits of driving an electric vehicle. We chose a BMW i3 with a range extender (2.9 gallons of gas to give an extra 80 miles when needed). It is a great car, and we’ve only used 0.8 gallons of gas in over 1000 miles! And it costs very little to charge through a special electric vehicle charging rate from our electric utility.

I love nature and enjoy hiking in protected areas. Conservation needs to begin by protecting our diminishing natural places. One of President Obama’s last acts has been to protect the Bears Ears Buttes in Utah and Gold Butte in Nevada. Republicans are already trying to undo this remarkable conservative gift from Obama. Since most of us don’t have the executive authority to protect large amounts of land, what can we do as individuals? Obviously, it is important to contact our local and national elected officials to let them know our opinion on protecting the environment.


If not me, then who?

We can also do small things. My wife and I took a lovely hike to Panther Creek Falls in Georgia last month, and we found a lot of litter on the trail. This not only detracts from the experience, but it also can encourage others to treat it the same way. After I passed a few cans and paper on our way out, I asked myself, “If I don’t pick these up, who will?” It wasn’t hard to pick up most of the trash I could find on the way back (except I could have used a bigger bag), and my new motto is If not me, then who?”

But this is a leatherwork blog! Do you think it was easy for saddle and harness makers when automobiles were introduced? No. A lot of craftsmen lost their jobs. The world no longer needed saddles to function. I’m certain that would have been very difficult, especially for the families that relied on the income from saddle making. But change happens, and now saddle making and traditional leather work is a luxury. I am sad for coal miners who have lost their jobs, but some of them may learn to make solar panels or batteries for electric vehicles. It is possible to retool, and the future of the world may depend on it.

Because we no longer commute on horses and carriages, my leatherwork is also a form of conservation. I like to conserve and respect the knowledge from the very talented craftsmen who were the coal miners of our past. I have been very busy with my day job, but I was able to spend some time in my shop over the holidays. I unstuck my gluepot, got a new MAKER stamp, and made a few belts for my relatives as gifts.


One of my Christmas belts for family.

My current project is some new bicycle bags, similar to some I made a few years ago. They should be ready in a few weeks. Our BMW i3 is a very green car, but it can’t touch a bicycle!

on bike

My bike with the front and rear matching bags.


I haven’t posted a blog for some time now, because I haven’t had much time to work in my shop, because I’ve been very busy working. It has been a busy time since August, with several grants, papers, and trips. I spent a wonderful month in Ecuador teaching and developing new collaborations for 2 weeks on a Fulbright grant and then traveling for another 2 weeks my wife and our kids. For the final 8 days, we visited the Galapagos Islands, which was even better than I imagined! Since Ecuador, I’ve had trips about every week, and these continue until the end of 2016. Shop time has been rare…


My new maker stamp, which will show up in a few weeks.

Last weekend I carved out a day in my shop, and it was a wonderful reset! One nagging thing for me since we moved from Gainesville, FL to Athens, GA last year was that my old leather stamp still says Gainesville. I managed to finally design and order a new maker stamp, which will arrive in a few weeks.

I also made a new iPad Pro case last weekend. I’ve been using my new iPad Pro for a few months, along with an Apple pencil for taking notes. I made a case with a different design when I got it. The idea was something simple that could be slipped off and then I could substitute my keyboard. It was a pain to use, and the I never had a place to keep the pencil, which is very nice but surprisingly “un Apple-like” in its design. There is no place to put it, and it doesn’t even have a clip to keep it in a shirt pocket. The new case seems to work much better, and I’m enjoying it so far. I also developed a keen dislike for the hard plastic covers that are designed with the keyboard. iThingy’s are useful but soulless, and I really like a handmade cover that has little glitches and idiosyncrasies to soften the hardness and glare of the technology.

Today I was working in my shop again and listening to a nice story on the radio about Studs Terkel. He has been a real hero and inspiration for me since reading “Working” in high school. That was perhaps my favorite book for many years. I love the stories of the mechanics, bus drivers, doctors, waitresses, flight attendants, farmers, and prostitutes. Studs Terkel listened to regular people and recorded their stories. The book made me aware of the importance of individuals and that everyone has a story.


New ideas for an iPhone case. Stay tuned…

I love to make things out of leather. It is satisfying to take an idea and a hide of leather and end up with something that is functional and grows more beautiful as it ages with the owner. But perhaps just as important as the leatherwork itself has been the connection to a group of mentors in shoe shops, boot making, and saddle shops. These have been some of the most important people in my life. Most of them had different political and religious views than I did. Some had very little formal education. They made a living but worked very hard to stay afloat financially. Several of my leatherwork mentors are dead, but I still love visiting with leather craftsmen, and I always try to visit interesting shops and meet new people on my trips.

I voted early yesterday in this crazy presidential election. It felt good. I support Hillary Clinton and think that she would be a good president. To me, the alternative is terrifying. But I know that a lot of people fear immigrants and other less tangible fears that have been injected into this campaign. In the line for early voting, there were several people who I thought would likely be voting for Hillary and others who would likely be for Trump. We didn’t discuss it, and we weren’t allowed to have campaign material, so I really don’t know. The good thing is that it was comfortable. People were friendly and respectful, and I thought about my days in shoe repair and saddle making shops. Today I imagined what Studs Terkel would have done in that line. He would have wanted to learn more about their stories.

Who would my leather mentors have voted for? How about our shop customers? I don’t know. And I don’t care. We had something in common, which was deeper than any election or religion or political event of the day. We loved craft and we valued beautiful things that were made by hand in a long tradition passed from person to person.