Leather – Then & Now

for London Craft Week

Written by Victoria Green

This week has been a very exciting one for both the museum and those devoted to craft! From the 9th – 13th May, London Craft Week has been taking place across the city. LCW is currently on its fourth year of showcasing exceptional talent and craftsmanship from Britain and beyond. The festival is designed to bring together established and emerging makers to attract visitors and encourage a craft renaissance.

For several months now, the National Leather Collection has been working closely with Bill Amberg and his studio to create an exhibition for London Craft Week. After a successful first year in 2017, we couldn’t wait to be involved again.

‘Leather – Then & Now’ was the result; an exhibition of historical objects juxtaposed stylishly beside their modern equivalents. It is an incredible feat, bringing together well established names – Rolls Royce, Burberry, Valextra, etc – and exceptional makers like Kari Furre and Mark Tallowin. Through these objects, the exhibition tells the story of leather and human history by demonstrating the evolution of this ancient material. What’s more, the exhibition was intended to showcase the versatility of leather and highlight the possibilities of what craftsmen can achieve with this medium.

The exhibition features everything from Roman sandals, Elizabethan gloves and Japanese samurai armour to a Rolls Royce Phantom seat and Burberry 3D Beast bags.

(L) 19th Century Leather sculpture
(R) Georgina Brett Chinnery mirror frame

(Front) Coralie Chung side saddle
(Back) 17th Century side saddle

In my opinion, one of the most exciting aspects of this entire exhibition is the way that it chronicles social evolution through material culture. We see, for example, a 17th Century side-saddle, used in the days when women were not permitted to ride independently, posited beside a modern side-saddle designed and made by Coralie Chung, which affords the rider complete control. Furthermore, we see how luggage has become smaller and lighter to comply with modern travel and baggage allowances. Gone are the days of those heavy seafaring trunks and chests!

Kari Furre chicken-skin sculpture

Burberry 3D Beasts bags

Thankfully, we have not lost knowledge of leather-crafting tradition along the way. In almost all of the objects on display, it is clear how the historical has influenced the contemporary. Age-old traditions like hand-stitching and hand-cutting are proudly featured alongside contemporary craftsmanship.

This leaves the visitor with a simple message. Leather continues to be relevant in the modern world. Although we as a society may be more conscious about issues like ethics and corporate social responsibility, leather has never gone out of fashion. With a spike in the trend of ‘buy once, buy well’ and ‘Make it British’, good craftsmanship and locally sourced materials are more desirable than ever.

(L) 18th Century belt
(R) Harry Owen men’s tan belt

(L) 17th Century drinking vessel
(R) Simon Hasan vase

As a museum, it is our job to be neutral and to let the collection speak for itself. If leather could talk, however, I’m sure that it would say a huge thank you and congratulations to Bill Amberg, Leathersellers Company and everyone else involved with bringing our incredible collection back into the spotlight.

The exhibition is being hosted by the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers at St. Helen’s Place, and is free to enter. There’s still time to catch the exhibition, which runs until 2pm on Saturday 13th May. This exhibition is part of a wider programme of events hosted by London Craft Week. For more information, please click here.

We are now open every Wednesday from 10am – 4pm! Information on how to find us can be found here.

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