Saturday, February 18, 2012

Art/Craft Fairs-Summerfest-Credit Unions

In 1976 I made a decision to expand my retail exposure. Sales at The Leather Shop had been strong and growing since I first opened but I knew I had to keeping pushing for more business. Two venues that I tried were Summerfest and the arts and crafts market.

A Calendar Was Made for the Merchants on Brady Street - The Leather Shop was June
Notice The Caption - Don't Dream It, Be It

The Lake Front Festival of the Arts had started out as a small regional art fair and it was in Juneau Park and most exhibitors layer their art or craft on a blanket placed on the ground. When I decided to exhibit at this fair, it had moved to it's present location at the War Memorial Center. A jury selected the participants and I was fortunate to get in on the first try. Usually the weather for this event can be on the wet and or chilly side being so close to the lake front. During my appearance at the show the wet stayed away but I do remember it being chilly. The fair was nothing like it is today with modern tents, lighting and paid admissions. It was more casual and the display would set up was minimal. Sales were ok but I could see this wan't in my best interest to pursue. Here is a picture of that show.

This Was My Display at The Lakefront Festival of the Arts - 1976

So this left Summerfest. How could I go wrong? Tons of people to sell to and right in my backdoor.
I plunked down the booth fee which seemed expensive at the time and readied myself for the onslaught of business. I quickly found out how much work Summerfest took to pull off and how little money was left after the show. Remember, it's not how much cash that flows but how much cash that sticks. Between the high booth fee, the long hours and the need to pay wages for those long hours ate up any real profit I saw.
The rule of thumb I learned is this, don't compete if the show puts more emphasis on the three "B's" then the art or crafts. The three B's are: blues, beer and brats! Patrons will gladly spend their money to eat, drink and listen to music but when it comes to buying. 


Anyhow, here's the only pic I have of Summerfest.

My Booth at SummerFest - 1976

Trying not to be discouraged, I stayed involved with Brady Street and was the President of the Brady Street Association in 1976. It was mainly a ceremonial role but we did have meetings and I was solicited by tavern owners to nod my approval to the alderwomen when it came to license renewal. Neighbors and business's on Brady Street always complained that the street lacked two things. A hardware store and a bank.

The Brady Street Association did come up with a rather unique approach to neighborhood banking or the lack of it. During my stint as the president, we came up with establishing the first of it's kind credit union. We called it the "First Neighborhood Credit Union" and it was open to anyone that lived in that area. It was helped along by Congressman Henry Reuss and his influence with the United States House Committee on Financial Services. The credit union was run by volunteers and was successful for a number of years. It was a revolutionary idea but difficult to sustain. During one of our meetings I was giving the alderwoman, Sandra Hoeh-Lyon my thoughts on a few subjects. 

She was amused to say the least. Notice the persons hand in the lower left corner of the picture. People actually smoked during meetings.

A Meeting of the Brady Street Merchants Association - 1976

Friday, February 17, 2012

All Rise for Risé and the Making of Shoes

It didn't take long to get back on my feet after Boo Boo and I broke up. I moved into a cute little apartment on the east side, only a half a block away from my Mother's home on Bartlett and Lafayette.
Having some cash to spend, I decorated it with some nice wood items made by my oldest and best friend Dick Ivens. I bought some beautiful oriental rugs and a scandanavia styled dining table. I liked being a bachelor and before long I met a new gal named Risé. She was an aspiring model and worked at a bank.
We turned each others head. Here she is giving her best head turn impression.

My Sweetheart at the Time - Risé Anderson - 1974

As time wore on, I was getting a little older and wiser. One of the things I wanted to learn was how to make shoes. I was very good at making sandals, purses and garments but shoes were a whole new ball game. Leather working friends from Minneapolis had learned how to craft shoes from an old shoe maker that passed on his skills to them. One friend in particular, Jim Nikora gave me the low down and the inside knowledge on how to make a pair of shoes. This was purely an exercise in craftsmanship and not a venue for making any money. The amount of time and effort needed to make custom or even stock shoes were out of my reach. For each individual foot size, width and style a wooden last would be needed to wrap the leather around. For all those reasons, I could never have offered them for sale but I did make several pairs of shoes and boots for myself. Here is my first and second pair of shoes. The first pair were very basic and very brown from calfskin. Frank Zappa sang a sung that went like this: "Brown shoes, don't make it. Quit school, why fake it"? The second pair were made from horsehide.

My First Two Pairs of Shoes I Made - 1974

To make a pair of shoes or boots, one first starts with a drawing. 
Here's my drawing and pattern for a pair of boots.

A Pattern for a Pair of Boots - 1974

Exact measurements are taken of all parts of the foot, ankle and in this case my calf and how high the boots will be. This pattern is laid out onto the leather and stitched together. Seams need to be thinned and turned back and zippers or decoration has to be added. Here is a picture that is showing me sewing the upper parts together on a cylinder arm machine with a roller foot. The cylinder allows me to work on a curve and the roller foot allows me to stay very close to the edge of the leather.

Stitching the Upper Parts on a Cylinder Arm Machine - 1974

Once the upper part is assembled I would turn my attention to the mid-sole and lower sole of the boot.
A leather welt would have to be hand sewn on the mid-sole so I could combine the upper to that mid-sole.
Several strategically placed grooves and channels were needed to be placed in the mid-sole to allow this to happen. It was very hard on my hands and I know now why old time shoe makers hands looked so worn and abused.

Preparing the Mid-sole on Boots - 1974

Here is what the welt, mid-sole and uppers look like when they are hand stitched together. The knife is trimming off the excess of the uppers. Notice the heel area is being held together with nails that clinch back into the mid-sole because there is a metal plate on the bottom of the last at the heel, just for that purpose. The arch area between the end of the welt and the clinched heel would have a steel arch support laid in there, secured with two tacks and cemented over. Wooden pegs would also be added for strength.

Trimming The Upper Material from the Mid-Sole - 1974

Another view of the mid-sole with the steel arch inserted and cork was used to fill up any spaces between the mid-sole and out-sole. The cork also helped in preventing the boot/shoe from "squeaking" when used.

Mid-Sole with Steel Arch Support and Cork Padding - 1974

Once the mid-sole was completely finished on both feet, the out-sole would be attached. The welt stuck out from the mid-sole and provided a space for the out-sole to be attached. Here is the out-sole and the heel just before it was attached.

Out Sole and Heel for Boots - 1974

Making shoes or boots was a great experience and I learned a lot about different types of construction.
I think it helped me look at other leather projects as just a process of one step after another. If I scaled it down to the step by step process, I can build anything!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Boo Boo Years!

In early summer of 1970 I was introduced to a woman by some mutual friends. Her name was Louise Claudia French but all her friends called her "Boo Boo". It was a funny nickname and she certainly didn't look or act like a Boo Boo. Turns out the nickname came from when she was young and played peek-a-boo with her family, she could only get out the boo boo part of the game. She was a red headed firecracker who grew up on the upper east side and attended all those elite high schools and colleges. During the summer her family with vacation at a home on Pine Lake. Her mother opened a small needle point store in the Village of Chenequa to entertain herself and to socialize with other peers. After a car accident where Boo Boo was forced to be still for a few months, she picked up needle point from her mom. Boo Boo lived next to her grandma on Hackett Avenue, just off Downer Avenue and a small store was soon to be occupied by Boo Boo called French Knots. Boo Boo had a long line of well heeled ladies who patronized her store and learned all the complicated stitches. It was a very busy store. Boo Boo or her staff would paint the canvas designs so the ladies could stitch their custom creations. She also needed people to sew the finished items into the pillows, eye glass case, bell pulls or chair seats the women created.

Meeting Boo Boo was like a scene from the Walt Disney Movie, Lady and the Tramp.
Love at first sight and opposites certainly do attract. Here's a very early picture of me, Boo Boo and my first partner Ron Raffey as we walked into Summerfest.

Louise French, Ron Raffey and Bill Odbert Outside SummerFest - 1970

Boo Boo was very well schooled in all aspects of life. She knew her way around academics and the arts. Her family and friends were the movers and shakers of Milwaukee. At that time I had no clue how that side of society enjoyed their life but I can tell you one thing, Boo Boo and I enjoyed each others company. Boo Boo was every bit the rebel that I was. She disliked being pigeon holed as a rich upper crust snob but wisely used her position to enhance her life and business. We became like peanut butter and jelly, inseparable.  From her I learned how to sail a boat, ski downhill and ride a horse. Those were activities that were never offered to me earlier but now I was catching up. She was smart, beautiful, funny and I loved her very much. 

Two separate pictures of me and Boo Boo on the steps of The Leather Shop:

Louise "Boo Boo" French in Front of The Leather Shop - 1972

Me and My Irish Setter in Front of The Leather Shop - 1972

Over the next four years Boo Boo and I had a whirl wind romance. We lived together on Hackett for a short time until one early Sunday morning as we sat in bed reading the Sunday paper. She noticed a classified ad for a forty acre horse farm that was for rent out near Pike Lake. It had been renovated by a local attorney who's wife would not live out there. We drove out to the farm later that day and fell in love with it. Not only did it have a modern interior to a pre-civil war split rail log cabin, it was completely furnished. There was a horse barn, a silo that was turned into a sauna, a swimming pond and a half mile long driveway from the road. We moved in, bought a horse, new cars and became very popular amongst our friends. Two friends of mine were leather workers from Appleton via Sheboygan. Names were Chuck and Hoodia Hurtienne. Here they are posing in front of the Ponderosa we called home.

Fellow Leather Workers, Chuck and Hoodia Hurtienne in Front of My Home in the Country  1972

This is the only picture of me on a horse. Notice the sandals and the uneasy grip on the reins.

Me On A Horse - 1972

Boo Boo and I both still worked in the city. Me at The Leather Shop on Brady Street and her at the French Knots on Downer Avenue. To travel back and forth between the city and the country we decided that a new car was needed so we bought this little Porsche 914. I also bought a Toyota Land Cruiser that would be ideal during the winter months. It also worked well for the four dogs we had to haul around.

My First and Only Porsche - 1972

Over the years Boo Boo and I were an item, we experienced some memorable moments. We would go to Pine Lake and fish the crystal clear waters. This was my first time to learn how to operate a small outboard motor and boat. Here's a picture of me in that boat threatening to take off my pants. Boo Boo was holding my dog Ellis. Both of them had beautiful red hair.

Me on Pine Lake - 1971

On other boating occasions Boo Boo patiently taught me how to sail. On Pine Lake we used small boats that would dip over easily but getting wet was half the fun. The warm sun and water felt great but being in love was the best. We also would sail on Lake Michigan by renting unsinkable boats near the old War Memorial. I had to learn new terms like "locked in irons" and "coming about" to master the art of sailing.
During the winter months, some of Boo Boo's friends would invite us out to Pine Lake for ice boating. One year the ice was very smooth and the ice boat sailing was so much fun. If not a little dangerous too as we hit speeds that rattled your teeth and chilled you to the bone as we zipped across the frozen water. The picture below is from one of those excursions with Jim Anderson of Pine Lake waving to me the camera man. Bob Degge, a very talented metalsmith is there from Minneapolis, plus my brother Roger, Chuck Hurtienne and Jack Goudreaux. What a motley crew!

Ice Boating on Pine Lake - 1972

During on four year relationship we traveled all over the state of Wisconsin. Boo Boo showed me places I would have never know about. Places like the "Hogs Back Road", and the mysterious commune built in the shadow of Holy Hill called Sconfinato. Commune is a loose term for this development but it seemed so strange at the time. An architect designed these out of this world looking structures and hippies built them to live in. I don't have any pictures of the homes built there but if you travel down Hwy 83, just south of Holy Hill and on the Mayo Road, there is still some of these dwelling visible. They look like they landed like a space ship and not a part of this world. Boo Boo was a great tour guide and I was loving it. One year she flew to Florida during the winter to visit her folks in Fort Lauderdale. I drove that little Porsche all the way there to meet up with her. This was my first long trip by myself and the first time I swam in the ocean. The water was very warm and of course salty but those damn jelly fish stung my tender flesh. Freaked me out as it hurt so bad. Yikes!

A fellow I met through the leather business was a tanner from Tullahoma Tennessee. His name was Eric Soesbe and he was a red neck through and through. His grandpappy had started the tannery and his father took over the reins to the company. Eric was next in line and had come to Milwaukee for one of our many trade shows that showed off our vibrant tanning industry. The first time I met Eric is when he walked into my shop with a unloaded shot gun slung over his shoulder and a coon skin cap on his head. Eric was in town for business and to P A R T Y. Next to him was this VERY buxom blonde bombshell named Janice Lee. Eric had hired her to be his "greeter" at the convention he had a booth at. He wanted us to make her a blue suede outfit. She was so busty, I felt like Howard Hughes trying to design a bra for Jane Russell. Eric was a great guy and became a good friend. He was enamored with Boo Boo and invited both down to his home in Tennessee. We accepted his offer and drove down in that roller skate of a Porsche. Once there Eric showed us the tannery where they made the white traditional baseball leather out of horsehide. The horsehide was used because it would not deform as easily as cowhide. The tanning process was very similar to cowhide but differed by the drying process they used. We entered a room with row after row of hide sized cedar boards bound together. On each one of these was a white horsehide stretched and nailed to the wood. A formaldehyde odor was in the air. Pungent and irritating to our eyes and nose. The formaldehyde was used to slowly dry the hides so they did not become brittle and remained soft for making the baseballs. This is a patented process and still used by his company but they don't use horse anymore, the major leagues switched to cowhide years ago.

Eric was a marvelous host and his home along with his wife and children were very hospitable. Early the next day, we awoke long before dawn and traveled to a friend private air field. Once there, a very large wicker basket with a one million BTU burner at the top was carried to the open air strip. Tipping the basket on its side and aiming a huge fan at the fabric that stretched from the top of the wicker basket allowed the fabric to inflate like a ballon. Once it got large enough, Eric lit the burner and started to blast very hot air into the fabric. What started to appear was a hot air ballon. Once the temperature inside the fabric reached more the 80 degrees warmer then the outside or ambient temperature we would have lift off. Early in the morning or early evening works best for this process as there tends to be lighter air. Eric inflated a weather ballon with helium and set it flying off into the sky. A stop watch was used to calculate it's ascent and notes were made of which way it traveled as the hot air ballon was soon to follow.

The wicker basket only had room for two people. Since Eric was the pilot, Boo Boo was his first passenger. As they lifted off, she nervously waved and as they drifted off into the early morning air I took this picture.

Hot Air Ballon Over Tennessee - 1975

A friend of Eric and I were in the chase vehicle. Armed with walkie talkies we were in communication with Boo Boo and Eric for s host time but radios back the were not the sophisticated devices we have today. We kept our eyes on the ballon and tried to determine which way they were going. The weather ballon showed us two different air streams at various levels. At 2000 feet the wind went one direction but at 4000 feet it went another direction. As we scampered across the Tennessee landscape we traveled over wooden bridges and unpaved roads. One small creek we had to forge over was only made possible by metal I-beams that we had to size to our car width before using them to cross the stream. Fortunately we were able to keep them in sight and when they landed we could gather up the ballon fabric and load the basket onto the trailer we pulled. The tradition is to toast the landing with a bottle of champagne but we settled for some ice cold beer.

The next day was my turn. Once again we arose very early and went through the process of inflating the ballon. As we lifted off I was not frightened but I was very excited. Eric cautioned me to be quiet until we gained some altitude as moon shiners were directly below us and wounding think anything about taking a shot at us less we be any guys from the infernal federal government. We barely made it over some trees in the beginning but as we gained height the ground was slowly moving away. I could see the countryside and the cows and mules in peoples backyards. The only sound you hear is the blast of the burner overhead. When it wasn't spewing  the hot air we needed to stay afloat it was very quiet. One could hear the birds sing as they flew by. By my surprise, I learned that since the wind is pushing the ballon along, there is no feeling of the wind. Only calm air surrounds you. We ascended to 4000 feet and I made the mistake of looking over my shoulder and down at the ground. I felt my knees buckle and my stomach flip. I sank to the bottom of the basket. Eric laughed at first but then coached me not to look down but to look straight out so I did not lose vertigo. In the distance, Eric saw a field he wanted to land in. Using the lift of the ballon, he decreased the heat inside the ballon so we would slowly descend. As we approached the open field, Eric had me stand behind him as he operated the enormous rip cord that allowed the hot air to escape once the basket had touched down. The rip cord was attached to a velcro panel in the ballon and once pulled, the hot air rushed out. When the air rushed out it took us down the filed a little bit, making the basket bump along the ground. We landed successfully and were greeted by a Tennessee family and their livestock. Eric had flown close enough to their home that as we approached, permission was asked and granted to us to land in their field. The only ones that didn't get the message was the cattle. Eric had me run out to the ballon's fabric and quickly start gathering it up and keeping the cattle away. It seems like cattle like the taste of fancy flying ballon fabric.

Once on the ground we expected to see Boo Boo and the other chase person there to take us home. The walkie talkies were primitive and the chase vehicle didn't know where we were. The back up plan was for us and the chase to call back to Eric's wife who would relay where we were. Eric stayed with the ballon and entertained the throng of people who had gathered from miles around to see what the hell just landed.
The landowner had a telephone and was happy to let me use it. I dialed the number and when I asked the where we were, he said we were at the "Gnat Hill" and the "Hoo Doo Road". Seriously, I had to ask him several times to repeat that because his Tennessee accent was so strong and that intersection was certainly not in my Milwaukee vocabulary. Eric's wife knew immediately where we were and dispatched the tracking vehicle to us. What a trip!!

We made it back to Milwaukee and back to reality. The early 1970's were years of growth in the business and in my personal life. The business was good. I loved being a leather worker but my relationship with Boo Boo was suffering. Was it that her parents were always dead set against me dating her daughter or was it that our hopes and dreams were not the same. Boo Boo and I parted our ways and this picture of the lonely dog in front of The Leather Shop that appeared in the paper seemed to sum up how I felt.

Cute Picture of Someones Dog in Front of The Leather Shop - 1976

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Friends, Co-Workers and A Hidden View

In the early 1970's I found myself being a young hippie businessman doing exactly what I loved to do, make leather goods. The Leather Shop was the perfect fit for my curious personality and charm. I always loved to tinker with things and about the only subjects in school I did well in were mechanical drawing, metal and wood shop plus home economics. I loved to sew and I always loved to cook. Here at The Leather Shop I was able to take some of those basic skills and create unique items that our customers paid us good money to make. In those early years we made jackets, vests and pants. We used smooth leather, suede leather and sandal or belt leather. We sold belt buckles, wallets and other assorted items and all out of leather.

Ilze Heider Modeling a Fringe Leather Jacket We Made - 1971

Me Modeling a Leather Vest with My Dog Ellis - 1971

Here I Am Modeling a Very Tight Fitting Leather Jacket - 1971

Milwaukee was (and still is) a neat city to live and grow up in. For me the abundance of tanneries and their related suppliers and industry provided fast and easy access to items I needed. Other leather workers would trade from miles away to come to Milwaukee and shop the industry. I made many a new friends of fellow bovine benders who came into town. We traded ideas and secrets between us.

A Group of Leather Workers from Minneapolis was Visiting - 1971

Good Friends Bert and Linda Stitt - 1971

Me and Mary Vinette - 1971

My Nephew William Abler in The Leather Shop - 1971

Ilze Heider, Sharon Sampon and I were looking at a newspaper article. We used to stop work sometimes and watch the show on television called "Mary Mary". Remember it?

Bill Odbert, Sharon Sampon and Ilze Heider - 1971

Here's Derek and Jerry, my 4:20 comrades :)

Derek Grey and Jerry Nieme - 1971

During one of the Brady Street Festivals our very own Mary Vinette sold her whimsical paintings in front of the Leather Shop. 
Notice the bean bag chair in the background. We made those bean bag chairs in the basement for the Age of Man store that was on Brady Street. 
The woman standing next to Mary was my girl friend, Julian Johna Jelava.

Mary Vinette and Julian Johna Jelava - Brady Street Festival - 1971

Sharon Sampon really got into the leather working process. She climbed onto the table to hold the belt straps together so I could paint the edges. Team work paid off!!

Sharon Sampon and Bill Odbert Working Straps on a Table - 1971

Dean Johnson was a good friend of all of us at The Leather Shop. Dean worked for the Journal-Sentinel and always carried a camera. One day he stopped in a took these two pictures of the basement below The Leather Shop. We would retreat to the basement on occasions after locking the door and putting a sign up that said: "Back soon, fixing the boiler." Use your imagination :)

A Fish Eye View of the Basement of The Leather Shop - 1971

Another Fish Eye View of the Basement of The Leather Shop - 1971

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Making some improvements

Learning how to become a better leather craftsman was an ongoing process but since I loved doing that it didn't seem like work. One of the first things I wanted to do with the interior and exterior of the Leather Shop was to fix them up. The interior's floor was covered with bits and pieces of old linoleum and the walls were covered with dirty boards that were meant to look like old barn wood. I set out to change how the place look with a nicely sanded and varnished hardwood floor and new rough cut cedar wood for the walls. An electrician was hired to upgrade the outlets and the new lighting that I installed. One of the new local shops was the Stained Glass Studio. Marshall Bartos was the owner and he made some beautiful stained glass panels for the florescent lights. I also put in track spot lights to highlight the leather products.
Here is a picture of the interior:

The Leather Shop - 1971

When I took the remodeling plan to the city of Milwaukee to obtain a building permit, I had labeled that shelf you see in the upper left of the above picture as a "loft". The building department had a fit and said I couldn't put in a loft but one wise man in that department took out his pencil and labeled it a shelf. Permit obtained and work began. The barber chair was an antique I bought and had reupholstered. 

For the outside of the building I  used several new signs that were emblazoned with my new logo. A local and very talented artist named John Gruzis designed the logo used on the sign and also for business cards and stationery. When the Avant Garde on north Prospect closed, the owner Gordy Simon sold me the light fixture that hung in front of this pioneer beatnik coffee house. The light can be seen below hanging in front of the entrance.

Here is a picture of the exterior:

 The Leather Shop - 1971

The sign John Gruzis crafted is displayed below. Painted using the durable paint called One Shot.

The Leather Shop Logo - 1971

Monday, February 13, 2012

Mother - Don't Let Your Baby Blow His Future.

Looking at pictures I collected over the past fifty years I came upon several that are a bit of a snapshot into what my life was like in the late 1960's. My hair was long and of course I possessed that youthful look that came with someone of my age and gender. A friend was working at an Robert Block Advertising Agency  and she approached me with a request that I sit for a photo shoot. I wasn't sure at that time why anyone would want to photograph me but it was very flattering that I was asked to be a "model". A time and place was given to me and along with my girlfriend, Chris Young we arrived for my cameo. I was instructed to look into the camera with a forlorn look or a lost look. After a series of shots, here is the one they chose to be used by the upstart tutoring Lovejoy Education Center, Inc. It ran several times in both the Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel.

 Here is The Advertisement - 1969

Friends and relatives from all over the state of Wisconsin commented on my picture. I was paid for my one and only modeling gig and here is the check stub of my big payday.

The Check Stub to My First Modeling Gig - 1969

During the photo shoot, Chris was asked to join me in several poses. They never did use this photo and I heard from my friend who worked at the advertising agency that they were worried that the general public viewing this photo might perceive that she looked pregnant. She wasn't but it was a nice shot.

Chris Young and Bill Odbert - 1969

I had this wonderful antique barber chair that I restored and covered in crushed maroon colored velvet.
All the metal parts were cleaned and plated with an antique finish. My friend Bert Stitt was also into advertisement and had a customer who needed this prop.

Antique Barber Chair - 1969

One night in 1970 a photo shoot was set up and I was placed on the barber chair with my leather jacket on, my long hair flowing and this large smoking pipe in my hand. It wasn't until the year 2005 did I realize how this photo was to be used. A local barber named Jose used it in his advertising promotions for 35 years. It wasn't until a chance meeting with him in 2005 that I found out that the now famous Jose Amado Oritz used the photo of me for his business cards. When I found out I was thrilled, honored and to tell the truth a little light headed. I never once saw the ubiquitous ads he placed all over the city and when I found out it was like Alice in Wonderland falling down the rabbit hole. My head was spinning. Jose and I have become the best of friends since our second meeting in 2005. Here is his advertisement:

Advertisement and Portrait of Me Used by José - 1969 to 2012

Another friend Les Leffingwell had drawn those cartoons of Will-M-Hell but Les was more then an illustrator, he was an artist. One of his ideas was to do portrait work for people who wanted oil paintings up themselves. Since I had a very visible store front window, he asked if I would sit for a portrait and then display the painting in my Leather Shop window. As payment, he would give me the painting. I'm not sure how much business Les Leffingwell received from that agreement but he did go on to become a successful artist, illustrator and federal court room sketcher. Here's that oil portrait of me:

Oil Painting of Me by Les Leffingwell - 1969

I was never shy about poking some fun at others or myself. Yup, got that right partner!

Me and My Ten Gallon Leather Cowboy Hat with Gloria Beebe - 1971

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bill's Bing Bang Leather Gang

One of the items I wanted to learn how to make was sandals. I had all the machinery from the old shoe repair shop and it just so happened that an older leather bender was crafting the type of sandal I wanted to make. He was in Madison and anyone who attended school there at that time will remember his shop. His name was Cecil and his shop was named after him. I traveled to Madison on number of occasions and he was kind enough to give me some pointers. Fortunetely I was a quick learner and my drive back and forth was made in this 1951 Ford Pickup Truck with an early logo of mine and Mr. Natural emblazoned on the side. Driving this truck with the window down and letting my freak flag fly was always a highlight and Madison was such a hip and trendy destination. Here's the only picture I have of that truck:

1951 Ford Pickup Truck with Early Leather Shop Logo - 1969

Through some trial and error I was able to fashion some well thought out and nicely crafted leather sandals. I really enjoyed the process of tracing someones foot on a piece of leather and then making the style they chose. I had to cut oblong holes in the top piece (upper sole) of leather for the straps and then trim this piece down to be slightly larger then their traced foot. Grooves were cut in the underside of this leather so the straps would not be felt by the person wearing them. I would dye each top piece with leather dye and attached the already colored straps. A bottom sole would be glued to the upper and then my trusty straight needle stitcher would combined them together. I marveled at how this stitcher had a awl that first made the hole and then the needle followed it up and finished the stitch. This stitcher also had a small knife that cut a small channel that the bottom thread pulled up into. This allowed the leather to heal over the thread and the thread would not be walked on and worn away too soon. A heel was attached, the sides were sanded smooth and black edge coat would be applied to the side. Here's a picture of some of the samples my customer could choose from:

A Display of My Handmade Sandals - 1970

I was very busy with sandal making during the summer months. To maximize my sales, I would advertise in the local hippy newspapers. Here is an advertisement that was drawn by one of my employees, Martha Bell. She was very skilled at line drawing!

A Drawing of My Sandals - 1970

I Made These Sandals in 1990 for My Lovely Daughter Ann Marie

I also used other ads that were less conventional and somewhat modeled after R. Crumbs "Furry Freak Brothers". My long dark curly hair and sometimes grumpy demeanor was mistaken by some as my true character. Instead of resisting that label, I decided to embrace it and use it in a cartoon fashion. My good friend, Les Leffingwell was commissioned to draw several cartoons for me which could be used in the local rags. We must have smoked a bowl or two discussing the ad and finally came up with "Eat Leather Fork Face", The Adventures of Will-M-Hell Odd Bird. Here's several ads I ran:

Funky Cartoons Drawn by Louie Lomoco - 1969

Beside doing my own advertising, I was able to attract some attention from the local media. Brady Street was fast becoming a hip and trendy street and The Milwaukee Journal did a piece on use new merchants. The article ran in the Sunday paper and this nice color picture of me was used. They misspelled my name, referenced that I was making moccasins when I was obviously dying the edge of a sandal and had the wrong street address. They did get one thing right, I was casual and unhurried.

Casual and Unhurried in My Leather Shop - 1970