TORRINGTON – Sandy Hoehn’s leatherwork is, in a word, intricate.
The flowers on the belt she’s making are expertly carved into the hide – not too deep, just enough so you can see every detail. They’re expertly placed, with just enough negative space so you notice all of the attention she’d given the project. The beadwork, put together in a western design, reflects the florescent light at 21st & Main. As she works white thread onto the outside edge of the belt, the quick, sure hands of an artist are evident, putting the finishing touches on a project she’s been engaged in for quite some time.
“It’s just so cool,” she said, without looking up. “I don’t think people realize how much time, art and finesse actually goes into it. There is just so much work that actually goes into it.”
Hoehn is brushing up on her skills so she can be at her best when she teaches the Leather Craft Studio through Eastern Wyoming College’s Community Education Department, which starts Monday at 6 p.m. The two-hour weekly class will be held on Monday nights until March 25. The cost to register is $60.
Hoehn learned her craft at the world-famous King Ropes and Saddlery in Sheridan while she was in college. She started her stint at King Ropes working in the front of the store, where they sell the famous hats, but the owners of the store decided to put her art minor to use.
“The owner came up to me,” she said. “I was always interested in it but I never did it in high school or anything. The owner was like ‘do you want to go to the back and start making stuff?’ I said ‘sure,’ and that’s where I got started.”
Hoehn began working under the late Clinton Fay, a well-known leather craftsman who literally wrote the book on carving. Sheridan Style Carving was published by BBC and L.L.C. in 2000.
“It was awesome,” Hoehn said. “Of course, I never really got to tool a lot until towards the end because I just worked there while I went to college, but what was really neat was that Clinton Fay, who was one of the famous, well-known carvers in Sheridan, he actually gave me my first tool set and taught me. That’s how I started to learn.”
After leaving Sheridan, Hoehn was waiting tables at Deacon’s Restaurant when she met a local saddle maker, who took a look at her work and encouraged her to teach a class at EWC.
“I went and talked to Donna (White, community education director) and she was like ‘heck yeah,’” Hoehn said.
Hoehn’s classes at EWC are populated by students of all ages. She said the youngest students she has taught are in elementary school, and the oldest students have been in their 70s. The class is a good way to get started in the craft, Hoehn said, because EWC provides the tools to get started. Students just have to procure their own leather, and Hoehn directs them to a website where they can purchase high-quality materials.
“I go over a couple of things and we start to practice,” she said. “Once they get to a point where I think they’re ready to go on, they start their projects. They get to decide on their projects and what they want to do.”
Students can make whatever they want, given there is enough time for them to learn the necessary skills and finish it during
“Kids have made belts, spur straps, nose bands for a halter, book covers, purses,” she said. “They can make pretty much anything they want as long as there is time for it.”
According to Hoehn, the class is an example of what is great about community education. It’s a chance for people to learn new skills, and connect with others in the community.
“Community education is really important,” she said. “It’s a way to get the community out doing something. You’re also learning new things, like welding or learning to cook different kinds of food. I just think it’s such a great opportunity for our community.”