Saturday, May 11, 2019

Leather Lady

For nearly 40 years Torre Strong has concentrated her substantial creativity on working with leather. She also paints and does beadwork, but fabricating with leather has been her focus since she was 16. At that point, she felt she needed to choose from the various artistic skills she had learned while growing up in an alternative community in the Northwest.

Strong traveled the world for six years as a young adult, noticing everywhere she went the way leather had been worked in different cultures and in different times. This broad exposure has been an abiding influence. Strong has been a resident of Questa for more than 25 years; her earlier work here was influenced by Spanish and Native American leather-working designs. Now she incorporates more Tibetan, Mongolian and Scythian themes. She considers herself largely self-taught and says, "With simple tools I can do a lot." 
Indeed, in her compact and well-organized studio, a table with an anvil is prominent as well as two vintage sewing machines, one of which is around 100 years old. She also has a table for painting on leather, for she now is combining her two favorite mediums of expression, leatherwork and painting. 
Asked about leather design, Strong emphasizes a perhaps often glossed-over aspect of leathercraft, its roots in functionality. "Everyone in the world seems to have a pretty deep history with the creating of utilitarian, everyday items with leather, and often to the effect of being ornate, beautiful, expressive." 
For Strong, design always starts with function. It is, she says, "need-motivated." The function dictates "what kind of leather you choose." Whether she is crafting a cellphone case, a leather shirt or a book cover will determine what part of a hide is needed, whether it is thin or thick, soft or rigid. Once that is determined and a pattern is made for the item, the leather is then cut out. The next part of the process is gluing and then stitching by hand or machine. 
"I prefer wild leather," she says, "bison, elk, deer, antelope. I've used the finest kangaroo hide to the heaviest water buffalo and Tibetan yak." She adds that "I have used bison primarily." Many have criticized her use of leather over synthetics. Strong believes, however, that leather is a more sustainable and less polluting material than its imitations. That said, Strong acknowledges that "I never forget for a minute that this is somebody's skin. It's the duality of life and death right there in your hand." She sees her work as a transformative process, "creating beauty out of pain." (Read more.)

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