Located in the north side, Chicago School of Shoemaking and Leather Arts places their mark as a hub for local leather artisan. From beginners to those with an advance skill set, anyone can explore the art behind leather work with trusted professional instructors. Meet the woman who started it all, and read about the inspiration and passion behind Chicago School of Shoemaking and Leather Arts:
Please introduce yourself and tell us more about the experiences that you currently offer.
I have been a custom shoemaker since 1974. Having made over 10,000 pairs of shoes for people all over the US and abroad, I decided to open a school for shoemaking and leather working in 2011. We offer classes in footwear construction and classes to make all kinds of leather goods.
When did you first become inspired to begin leather crafting?
I was living an alternative lifestyle, part of the back-to-the-land movement in the late 60’s and early 70’s. We were growing our own food, building a log house and working on making everything we needed by hand. When I needed a pair of shoes, I decided to try and make them myself. That’s how I got started.
What does your passion mean to you?
My passion is focused on sharing what I’ve learned over the years and empowering others to have a great life experience through working with their hands. I am able to do that through the classes and programs we’re offering at the school on a daily basis. Teaching has been a most satisfying experience because I get to feel others’ excitement as they create something new and unique for the first time.
What made you want to pursue teaching your expertise in leather craft?
When students finish their first pair of shoes, there’s this amazement on their face: I did this! I made these shoes! They can hardly believe they were able to do it. I like being around that energy.
How would you describe the link between your classes and the community around you?
I am pleased that in our 6 years we’ve had a very diverse student population attend our classes and use our space to make things out of leather. Many of these wonderful people I’d have never met if we didn’t have this space to share skills.
Tell us about your favorite moment/ biggest achievement since you started teaching your classes.
Launching our Vocational Training Program in September of this year. We are training people to be self-employed as leather workers and also collecting a roster of companies in the industry who are looking for trained leather workers with industrial sewing experience to employ. That is very exciting—that we can help people find meaningful work and also promote things made here in the US. We have a winter semester starting in January and a summer semester starting in June.
What is your favorite story about the Chicago School of Shoemaking & Leather Arts?
Early on in the history of the school, a woman came in asking if I could help her make a tote bag she loved. We began working together and after about 6 months of working with me once or twice a week, she’s now got a full-fledged business making her bags and has a dozen or more styles and products that she makes to sell. It’s very rewarding to see how successful she is and know that I was able to help make that happen.
What are some insider tips for a beginner looking to attend one of your classes?
Be willing to try something new and fall in love with it. Bring a friend and share the experience. It’s fun and it’s a great way to balance our digital lives with some hands-on creativity.
Share one quote that resonates with you the most and what it means for you?
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead
I believe we all have a chance to make our culture a safe place to thrive and experience life fully for all people. I am grateful that I have the school to offer a place where people can come together and feel good about what they are doing. Every little bit helps.
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