Reviving Leather Work

... traveling historic paths  in Peabody  

by Debbi Collar

The Leatherworks Museum in Peabody opens its doors to crafters. Diane Louise Paul demonstrates a saddler's locking stitch as she works on a strap which will hold antique sleighbells.

The George Peabody House is bringing back the city's once thriving leather industry. The Peabody Historic Society and Essex Sails and Trails partnered together to unlock the doors of the city's formerly
lucrative trade. Residents and guests were able to see the industry of the past as well as the workmanship of leather artisans of today.

The following vendors told their stories of becoming involved in the craft,  showcased their talents, and sold their leathercraft at this event.  

L - Museum's Korrect Measuring Machine  R- Diane Louise Paul's hand stitched leathercraft

Paul was using an awl, stitching pony and thread.

Diane Louise Paul of North Hampton, NH and member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, has been featured in numerous magazines, museums and TV shows. Her interest in leathercraft began
out of necessity over 25 years ago, "Originally when I was galloping race horses at Rockingham Park, I needed a new pair of chaps. The lady who made chaps had left the track (Rockingham Park, NH). I
went out and bought an antique sewing machine and taught myself how to make them.I wore my first pair of chaps and they came out fine."

To hone her self taught skills, she continued "reading books about leathercrafting and practicing", which, at one time, led her into being an artisan whose original product line included products such as
jockey saddles, bridles, lead shanks and galloping chaps.

Today, she has a different product line in which, she says, 95 percent of her work is hand stitched. On display at the George Peabody House were her most up to date creations, such as belts, sleigh bell
sets, dog collars and leashes, cow bell straps and either cuffs.

Demonstrating her talent, she also spent much time discussing her work with prospective customers. She uses an awl, stitching pony, and thread. Asked by one interested party if her hands hurt, she
revealed one of her secrets and explained, "I use beeswax on the thread and it makes the thread soft so I don't get sores on my fingers." Persons interested in her work can contact her through
her website, DLPleather.com. Paul is a regular at the Portsmouth NH Farmer's Market and has been invited to many shows throughout the country. She has also been a participant at the Melrose Victorian

In a separate room, were Tandy leather company representatives, Manager Lauren Yung and Jamie Wentzel (Sales), North Chelmsford, Ma

Tandy Leather Company Manager Lauren Yung and Jamie Wentzel of the North Chelmsford store showed visitor carving tools used in crating of their craft.

The pair were involved in demonstrating the "carving tools' used to create journal covers, wallets and sandals. Young enjoys her job, especially in meeting a wide range of people "from re-enactors to
Native Americans interested in making ceremonial garb." Young says hers is a job that she says "It's great." The store offers classes and according to her, "Customers bring back their first project and we
get to see how they've grown" as they advance from the basics to the more advanced levels. "Part of Young's job is also to run the classes at the store, yet marketing is included. It's selling but it's also
allowing me to educate them (the students)."

Dick Siriois, Ram Leather of Stratham, NH and his wife, Mary Lou. R- Dick Peckham - authored paper on the Peabody leather Workers from 1890s to the present.

Outside the Museum was another vendor, Dick Sirois. He, too, was selling his leather craft belts as well. There with his wife and Peabody Historic Society President Dick St. Pierre, Sirois explained that his
business, "Ram Leather Company {ramleatherco.com) of Stratham, New Hampshire, stems from a family business. "My father founded it in the 1960s. They were tanners of New Zealand of the lambskin
and shoe trade."

Branching out on his own later in life, Sirois opened up his own workshop. At one time in Peabody, he says, many families had at least one household member working in a leather factory "Peabody had
approximately 300 tanneries the city. Yet", he adds, "there were once over 500 tanneries in the country." Now they are down to about 10 in the country," Sirois noted. He also remarked that the
industry had been "decimated by foreign labor and the survivors of the leather trade believe in U.S. made." As to the trade today, he is "very optimistic
about "leather manufacturing and the (continued) survival of those within the industry."

Backing up information related by Sirois was Dick Peckham who authored a paper in 2010 as well stating that "following World War II, the leather industry in the whole of the United States was at its peak
as regards to production and factories. Peabody was not left behind. It too flourished. In those years 6 to 8 thousand workers were deployed in the leather industry in the city." Continuing to read the
paper, Peckham also says if the workers were not within the factories, they were employed in other areas which he calls "associated businesses, such as suppliers of chemicals and tanning materials,
leather finishes, processing machines, supplies such as knives, boot, aprons and buckets, trucking companies, financial institutions -- and many others."

Docent Vera Burke stands with 3rd grade student papers and clothing worn during the time of George Peabody's life.

Vera Burke - volunteer docent for 26 years, guides visitors through the George Peabody House, discussing the life of the man who once llived there. George Peabody was well known for being "the father
of modern philanthropy," George Peabody grew up as a poor boy who later became a financier and moved to London. He was born in 1795 and died in 1869. It is said that Peabody left school
at the age of 11 as his family could not afford for him to continue his education. However according to Burke, "He did not like his math courses, but he did love fishing. Peabody became an apprentice to
Captain Sylvester Proctor. Despite his not finishing school, Peabody then became a successful businessman."

He often attributed what he learned at his first job for his successes. "Legend has it that he was once buried in Westminster Abbey, the only American to ever be buried there. However in his will it was
determined that he was to be returned to Peabody for his final resting place. His body arrived on a ship called "The Monarch" and legend has it that this philanthropist who helped working class people in
both America and England returned on a day of heavy snow and railway tracks had to be cleared in order for the casket to get through. Among some of the honors Peabody received credit for were his
contributions to the founding of libraries and lecture halls, in seven communities and in helping those who met with financial hardship in paying off their debts, including his former employer's family who
fell into financial hardship. He also contributed to educational institutions and is responsible for taking  part in the merger of two museums with an endowment to two museums of science, The Peabody
Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard and the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale. The Peabody Essex Museum also received a contribution from him.

In London, according to historic documentation, Queen Victoria called him a man "wholly without parallel," for his selfless act in donating monies toward the formation of "affordable housing for the
working poor."

The above just a few notes of the selfless acts of a man in which more of his life can be learned at his former residence - now known as The George Peabody Museum. The Leather Works Museum is also
on this site and more history about the leather industry in a city named for George Peabody can be learned. The Museum is located at 205 Washington Street, Peabody.

October 7, 2016

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