Paul Burnett - 1983 Al Stohlman Award Winner

Stohlman Award goes to Memphis Crafter

When he was a 12-year-old Boy Scout, the first recipient of the Al Stohlman Achievement Award began working with leather. The pastime led to a steady income and eventually became a way of life for this crafter. Yet, unlike many in the business, the techniques he's developed have become knowledge to be shared, instead of secrets to be guarded. Paul Burnett, 44, of Memphis, Tennessee was selected by the judging committee as the recipient of the Al Stohlman Achievement Award based not only on his talent as a master leather worker, but his contributions to the craft as a whole through lectures, demonstrations, books, regular contributions in Make It With Leather, and, more recently, the author and administrator of his own correspondence course in leathercraft.

Having learned from books and materials that were available, Burnett realized the usefulness of having reliable information on hand. Hence, he decided to write his own. The first title, finished in 1976, was Creative Belt Stamping. To market test it, Burnett and the manager of the local Tandy Leather Company store mimeographed the information, stapled the pages together and sold copies to craftspeople in Memphis. Because many of his stamped pattern designs were innovative, Tandy Leather Company purchased the rights to the book and in 1977 published it in full color.

In his second book, The Basics of Creative Stamping, Burnett used many of the original patterns and ideas from Creative Belt Stamping to show how easy it was to rework the designs to fit wallets, key fobs and checkbook covers. But, despite the creativity of his designs, Burnett prefaced the work with a challenge for readers to create their own designs.

"My ultimate aim, outside of making a living with my books, is to get leatherwork accepted as an art form," Burnett told a newspaper reporter in 1979. "Most people don't realize the versatility of leather."

Burnett's first article for Make It With Leather appeared in the November 1978 issue. After Mucha, featured a splendidly carved woman's head that was an expression of his admiration for 19th Century artist Alphonse Mucha. Soon after that first article, Burnett became a regular contributor to MIWL with his Mini-Dyeing Series.

The popular stories first featured instructions on mixing and coloring with spirit dyes, while later installments have concentrated on coloring leather with acrylic paints.

Pictorial Definition - The Fine Art of Leathercarving, was Burnett's first book covering leather carving. The book was published in 1979 and is now in its second printing. The book has been adopted as a text by many industrial arts teachers and serves as an excellent example of his ability to convey his approach to learning. For Burnett, it's not enough to say "do it this way," instead he believes that people must know why they should do a certain procedure before proceeding.

Later in 1979, Creative Belt Stamping - Book II was released. The second in his leather art series, Burnett developed a selection of designs for a new group of Craftools that were about to be made available. In 1980 a new line of leather tools were about to be introduced in the U.S. by Midas Tool Company. As a result, Midas asked Burnett to provide "a few" patterns that would acquaint craftspeople with the tools. Not being one to take a job lightly, Burnett created 48 belt designs for varying belt widths and Midas Magic became another popular seller. The full color book also incorporates decorative swivel knife cuts that enhance the beauty of each design. During the following two years or so, Burnett was involved in a number of projects including the development of his own buckle collection of original designs, and, in the process, his own buckle company which now sells the items nationally. Also, South Central Company, manufacturers of Penworthy notebooks, hired Burnett to do six pieces of leather art that were transferred through a metal engraving process for molding vinyl notebook covers. The unique note books are now available in the school supply section of many stores across the country. The Stohlman Award winner also worked in cooperation with Leather Impressions, Inc., of New Jersey to develop a process called Leathography. Through a unique procedure, an original leather master design is carved and then reproduced in exact detail. Burnett worked closely with the company for several months until the process was perfected. Burnett was also asked to be one of five featured demonstrators at the First National Conference on Leather conducted in Gatlinburg, Tennessee in March 1982. The conference resulted in the formation of the Leather Arts Network. The multi-talented crafter was elected to the Network steering committee and just recently attended a meeting in Boston where plans were discussed for the next National Conference scheduled for April 1984.

Throughout his career, Burnett has strived to provide the craftsperson with informative material in the form of Craftaids, Idea Sheets and Doodle Pages. Recently, he published a project pattern pack featuring Game Animals. The designs in his latest work involve both traditional and contemporary looks. The designs can be adapted to many different leather projects. He also has another pattern pack in the works that will feature game birds. Burnett's current endeavor involves the establishment of a leathercraft correspondence course. The course will allow Burnett to teach people worldwide, using techniques and methods he has developed for use in his studio classes.

“I have come to the conclusion that there is no limit to what this man can accomplish with a swivel knife, strop, and a piece of moist leather,” one of Burnett’s former students said. “He almost gets as much satisfaction from his students accomplishments as they do themselves.”

"Stohlman Award goes to Memphis Crafter”. Make It With Leather.  January 1984: p 50-51. Print.