Jim Linnell - 2002 Al Stohlman Award Winner

Jim Linnell Receives the 2002 Al Stohlman Award for Excellence in Leathercraft

“Throughout my leathercraft career, I have been taught by the King of Leathercraft through his books, and now I feel I’ve been knighted by the Queen of Leathercraft, Ann Stohlman.”

Once again, it is Dottie’s and my privilege of presenting the annual Al Stohlman Award.  And what an additional privilege it was to have Ann Stohlman in person to bestow the medallion.  Dottie presented Jim with a one thousand dollar check made possible by the gifts sent to The Al & Ann Stohlman Award Foundation. 

Jim Linnell’s Leatherworking Biography:

My recollections of leatherworking are some of the earliest memories I have. I was born and raised on a ranch in eastern Montana about 50 miles from the nearest town, Miles City.  Our trips to town every 2 to 3 weeks were big events because, not only did we get to stop by the soda fountain at Woolworth’s, but we would often stop by the Miles City Saddlery.  Though I was too young to remember most of the details of those visits, what I do remember are the sounds and smells of that shop.

The neighbor that had the ranch just west of us (about 7 miles away) did a little leatherwork and it was at his bench that I had the first opportunity to stamp on some leather.  I was probably in the 2nd or 3rd grade when I got this first chance to try my hand at stamping.

Then at age 11, I had some instruction in leatherwork in a 7th grade industrial arts class.  The three projects that I made during that class whetted an appetite for leatherwork that I’ve had ever since.

Soon after that class, I answered a small ad in Outdoor Life for a Spiral Line wallet kit from Tandy Leather Company.  Along with the kit came a Tandy catalog and I soon pestered my folks into buying me a Lucky 7 tool set. With my own tools, I started making leather stuff for anybody that I could talk into buying me a kit.

When I entered high school, I took a crafts class where you could do leatherwork among several options.   Mr. Matross was my teacher and he actually knew quite a bit about leatherwork and helped me do some work I was actually proud of.  He introduced me to some instruction books he had that were written by Al Stohlman and I was amazed at the kind of detail that could be carved into leather.  I’d study those illustrations and try to do work that was as good, but mine always came short.  I thought that the photography had to make Al Stohlman’s work look better than it was.  But many years later when I had my first chance to actually see and examine some of Al’s work I realized that the photos didn’t do his work justice.  This realization definitely humbled me, but it also inspired me in that I now knew that it could be done.  Over the years, when asked where I learned to carve leather, I answered, “Al Stohlman taught me and has been my on-going inspiration.”

After high school, I did some leatherwork on the side for friends and family, until one day I walked into Boyd’s Boot & Saddle and asked if they had anyone doing custom leatherwork for them.  They said they had a lot of customers that asked for things, no one doing the work.  They asked to see some of my work. I made a wallet and took it back up to them that afternoon.  They liked my work and the fact that I could turn it out fairly quickly.  I went home with a half dozen orders and continued doing most of their custom work for the next 3 or 4 years

I also started tooling saddles for Jim Beeman.  This gave me the practice and confidence I really needed to develop my own style.

In 1978 I was working in the construction business during the day and carving leather at night.  I saw in the newspaper that Tandy Leather Company was looking for somebody to get into their manager-training program.  I knew working in the leather business sounded like something I might want to do.

I’d be making less money and working more hours, but there might be opportunity to grow.  My family thought I was nuts, but my sweet wife told me that we would manage if that’s what I wanted to do.  So one Friday afternoon I quit an $11.00 an hour job (a lot of money in 1978) and went to work the following Monday for $2.65 an hour.

I absolutely loved the work I was doing - demonstrations every week at schools and for youth groups all over Montana, as well as teaching evening classes in the store.  In Sydney, MT,  I introduced leathercraft to eight classes of about 25 junior high, industrial arts students (200 jr. high kids?) in one day.  Long day!   At another workshop with the 4-H extension office in Lewistown, MT, it was going to be a 4-hour workshop.  There were to be about 30 people, but the headcount proved there were over 175 parents and kids to learn leatherwork.  I ended up having to schedule two more workshops to accommodate the crowd.

After Billings, I managed Tandy Leather stores in Cheyenne, WY and Tacoma, WA; then spent 4 years as a regional manager overseeing stores in Rocky Mountain States before moving to Fort Worth.

Over the 18 years I spent with Tandy Leather Company, I have no idea how many demonstrations, classes and workshops I have given.  I’ve held leatherwork demos in elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools, universities, veteran hospitals, occupational therapy clinics, nursing homes, 4-H camps, Scout camps, YMCA camps, and so many other venues.

I took a short detour from the leather industry when I took over one of Tandy Leather Company’s sister companies.  I was president of Joshua’s Christian Stores for 7 years but still made samples for the local Tandy stores.

I left the Tandy family in 1996, but my leatherwork appetite was still strong. About year later, I and a couple of friends started Texas Wholesale Leather, Inc.  This really brought about the first opportunity for work to be published.  While in the process of starting the company, I did leatherwork for use in the advertising.  

George Hurst moved his business, Hide Crafters Leathercraft, into some extra space that TWL wasn’t using.  He got me involved with the Lone Star Leathercrafter’s Guild, which gave me the opportunity to exhibit my work at their annual convention.  I never dreamed of getting ribbons, awards and recognition for the things that I love to do.

In November of 1999, I joined Hide Crafter Leathercraft and, for the next 2, years worked with George Hurst to grow his business.  I continued to stay active, doing a lot of teaching not only at the various leather shows around the country, but also with many workshops and classes at the store.

One of the more significant events that has happened in the leather industry over the last few years was the closing of all of the Tandy Leather Company retail stores.  This event broke my heart.  It also made finding a place where interested people could be introduced to Leathercraft very difficult.  In January of 2002, I was asked to take on a new challenge.  I took on the position of Director of Operations for Tandy Leather Factory with the charge to re-establish a chain of Tandy Leather Stores once again.  The rest of this story is yet to be written.” …Jim Linnell

Our very best congratulations to you, Jim and to your wife, Denise, for she has been with you each step of the way toward your leatherworking excellence

Dot & Bill Reis

 Reis, Bill & Dot. "Jim Linnell Receives the 2002 Al Stohlman Award for Excellence in Leathercraft”. Leather Crafters & Saddlers Journal.  July/August 2002: p 62-63. Print.