Lapinel Arts


Story Archive



I have been carving a leather belt recently. I enjoy the freedom of the drawing, cutting then forming of the leaves, scrolls and flowers.  With an awareness of design and space it’s hard to make a mistake. I pushed the limit and picked up a stamp that looks like a little horse’s hoof and I added it to the stem of a plant. I added some more and let them fade into a new design. It worked well.


I am careful not to overdo the carving or stamping and I avoid any unnatural flow that will ruin the design but heck…you can do just about anything you want.


I sit back and stretch out my neck and wonder if I hit my limit for the day. The concentration and fine tooling takes its toll on the hands and my mind’s ability to focus. With a big sigh I realize it’s quitting time but still, as I look at the beauty that is coming to life I wander into all the possibilities of future work. Boots, holsters, leather bracelets adorned with silver materialize in my head but faster than you can read this I zap them away as I know I have too much to accomplish already.


I stand back and look at the work from a distance and my thoughts betray me again. Cathy and I gave up our horses sixteen years ago but we kept the gorgeous Arabian cut western saddles. What did those saddles look like? Is some of the carving similar to what I am now doing?


The saddles were tucked in a far recess of a longish closet that made access difficult.  I was a bit concerned about the mess I would create by bringing out the saddles but a rational thought actually existed in this sentimental meandering. What if the saddles were getting moldy and dying a slow death in our closet?


With a new found cause and the necessary bravery I dove into and past sweaters, sleeping bags, boxes and darkroom photographic equipment. Just at the very end of my reach I could feel the leather of one of the saddles.


About twenty minutes later my room was looking almost as bad as my daughter’s bedrooms. Clothes and objects were thrown all around to make an exit tunnel for the two saddles and the bridles. I had the saddles but created a disaster. I still had two choices to make; clean up the mess now or just take the saddles downstairs to clean them and worry about the room later.


Ahhh! Powdery mold on the strap of the leather! This was now indeed a time of crisis, an emergency that required urgent abandonment of the clutter so the saddles could receive first aid. I grabbed them both and threw them behind my shoulders, one in each hand. Click! Memory trigger…

I had done this very move so many times in my life I was thrown back in time and could feel that excitement that always hits me before I went for a ride. I raced downstairs and placed both saddles down to examine them and I was shocked at their beauty. Even with tarnished silver and dull looking leather there was still that remarkable craftsmanship in the tooling and stitching. More so, there was a wealth of memories flooding back from all the great rides with our horses.

 I could feel the adrenaline rush of galloping wide open through unknown downhill terrain. The calmness of wading thigh deep through a stream in rural Georgia. So many rides in so many states and all we have left are the saddles and bridles.


Before I could finish the thought of renting horse to put our saddles back in use I attacked the white powder that was eating our saddles.  With a mask and brush I removed all this material then I started to clean the areas with a leather cleaner.


It didn’t work. But there was so much I didn’t know about the saddle. I had never noticed the perfectly overlapped leather as it approached the horn.  The horn itself was wrapped on the edge with rawhide. The latigo holder was also carved and though the suede seat was slightly smooth, the roll in back was expertly sewn and its edge protected with a flat silver wrap. Gorgeous!


I walked to the garage to get my vinegar cleaning solution while I wondered if I could stabilize the saddle so I could at least sit in it.


I missed the rides.


As I went to the nasty chemical section of our garage I passed underneath my road bike and mountain bike and their attached saddles. These gave me wonderful memories as well. I used to fly my mountain bike down the hills with such speed that I could hardly see the trail. One of those times ended poorly as the bike flipped in a rut and left me with several serious injuries.


My road bike tried to betray me once as well as I tried to reach the elusive 50 MPH. I remember hitting 49.5 on a downhill run when a crosswind hit my bike and started an odd vibration in the whole bike. The vibration was strong enough that I knew that if I touched the brakes I would end up spread out like peanut butter on the highway. I waited, stayed loose and let the bike slow down by itself. I survived.


Still though, my bikes didn’t protect me as the horses did and that connection with another life or even a friend was missing. Despite that, the bike was a fairly decent substitute.


When I ride the horse or the bike I get that same sense of open ended freedom. I choose to travel, change course and distance as I see fit. I feel the wind in my face and the colors of everything that surrounds me becomes more vibrant. I see more details, I hear more wildlife and I catch scents that I know I would miss if I wasn’t in that elated state of freedom.


Both saddles have served me well by reconnecting me to the outdoors and keeping me well rooted into life and my surroundings.


After cleaning the horse saddles I know with some sadness that they will return to the closet but with a new coat of oil, love and some attention. I also know now that I need to get back in the saddle again…with my bikes.


I pass the belt on the table and I am drawn back to admire the art taking form. I sit and stare, knowing that I shouldn’t work just yet but once again and without knowing it I start carving again to release the structure of the delicate leaves and scrolls. I can’t avoid it.

Like magic the transformation continues.