Historic leather craft inspires new exhibition Artifacts Live: A Legacy of Leather

Leather artifacts, some hundreds of years old, are being used to inspire new art and design solutions from students thanks to an exciting collaboration called Artifacts Live.

The Museum of Leathercraft has teamed up with De Montfort University Leicester (DMU)’s Faculty of Arts, Design and Humanities and the university’s heritage team to run a unique project called Artifacts Live: A Legacy in Leather.

students with bill amberg

It has loaned 20 items, which range from Japanese Samurai riding saddles to Balinese shadow puppets, a 14th century casket and a Doge’s chair from the height of the Renaissance period in Venice to DMU.

Students choose one or two items to study, learning about the processes used to create the objects and create new art inspired by the objects. Later this year the original objects and the new art will be displayed together in a new exhibition.

Some 10 students from a range of arts, design and architecture courses have joined the programme, Mine Yeter,  Clifford Amponsah, Olivia Bodak, Lucy Dollery, Jewell Harris, Donghyeon Kim, Martha Lavery, Ana Del Rio Mularkey, Emma Padfield, Imogen Sullivan and Salvadore D'Orey, Ribieiro Filipe began the project with a visit to leather craftsman Bill Amburg to learn about textures and finishes, a private tour of luxury bag maker Mulberry and historic Pittards Tannery, the UK’s largest tanners.

Samurai saddle
A Samurai saddle

Each student keeps a diary of the project and they are also uploading their work on a virtual platform to follow the design process, documenting their work and learning about traditional learning techniques as well as the social and cultural heritage of the items.

Fashion Design student Ana Del Rio Mullarkey has chosen a rare leather Spanish fan, and a 14th century strongbox as her inspiration. She said: "It has been a really exciting experience, I just wish we had more time to work on it - we have to get it ready for the end of May.

"I chose the fan because I'm half Spanish so I want to learn about its context, how it would have been designed and used to give it that heritage context. The strongbox is just fascinating because it's very old, and the techniques that have been used to create it, the tooling and design gives me all sorts of ideas to translate into designs. It's also really nice to meet other students who are working in the faculty from different courses, and visiting Pittards and Bill Amberg's studio was brilliant."

leather screen  heritage gloves
A leather screen design from Spain                                                                                                        A pair of leather gloves from the Elizabethan erc

Faculty Enterprise Lead Gillian Proctor said: “This is a unique and fascinating opportunity for all concerned. We are delighted to have such a wide ranging and fascinating group, such great individuals and they are really becoming engrossed with the various leather processes. It will be a delight to watch the emergence of their creativity.

“It is essential in this day and age to preserve the incredible hand bespoke skills evident within this collection, which unless stapes are taken will be lost for generations to come. As part of the Culture and Heritage team at DMU, we see an incredible potential for engagement with leather as a wider university initiative for the future, particularly as leather is such a sustainable material.  As ever, we are indebted to the Leathersellers Company for their unfailing support.”

The project is backed by the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers which is a 600-uyear-old organisation established to protect leather workers and their trade.

Matthew Lawrence, Clerk (CEO) of the Leathersellers, said: “To ensure the survival of centuries-old leather craft, hand skills investment and support for rare specialist initiatives such as this application provides are essential. A Legacy in Leather’s celebration of leather craft hand skills would introduce and encourage students to engage with leather, recognising the expert skill, intricacies and artistic possibilities of working with leather. This is crucial to the Leathersellers – protecting the continuation of leather craft skills and supporting the sustainability of UK leather.”

The students are also being supported by Chris Wright of the DMU Drawing Centre who is helping them turn their 2D designs and sketches into 3D form, and Elizabeth Wheelband and Steven Peachey of DMU Museum.

The DMU team is Associate Professor Gillian Proctor, Dr Mary O’Neill, Elizabeth Wheelband, Stephen Peachey and Dr Rhianna Briars.

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Posted on Wednesday 8 February 2023

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