Verlane Desgrange - 2006 Al Stohlman Award Winner

This is the 16th presentation of the Al Stohlman Award for Achievement in Leathercraft

This is the 16th presentation of the Al Stohlman Award for Achievement in Leathercraft that Dottie and I have made.  Each time it is given, its importance and prestige seems to grow.  Although the recipients differ in lifestyles and origins, all of them have a story to tell about how the industry of leatherwork has advanced through their life of dedication to leather. In fact, in a letter to me from Al Stohlman, he writes, "One need not be an expert carver (stamper) to receive the award, but dedication is the key."

The Al Stohlman award recognizes that dedication. I'm quite sure that along with the Foundation and dedicated people on its board, the Award and its example will have for hundreds of years.

Once again it was our privilege to represent Al & Ann Stohlman who are always our distinguished guests - in spirit. They were a team that produced scores of books and papers teaching leatherwork to untold thousands around the world. In this sharing of their knowledge of leatherwork and by the same, perpetuates in no small sum the leather industry which most of us enjoy.

The Al Stohlman Award for Excellence in Leatherwork is bestowed to one who has shown by their own leatherworking life being consistent with that of Al Stohlman and his life's example of dedication.

The recipient of this year's Al Stohlman Award has met all the requirements as set forth to the judges - all of whom are life-long leatherworkers.  In the past presentations, I've been able to somewhat hide the recipient's identity until the very end when the name is announced.  But in this instance the recipient will know just as soon as I begin. In fact, probably 15-20% of you will also know after the first few sentences, then about half will know after a few paragraphs and most will know when three-fourths of the way finished.  Why?   It is because our recipient's extensive leather background will be a dead giveaway.  That's all right, a little change from the norm might add a bit of spice to the evening's presentation.

A great many leathercrafters began with a book or two by Al Stohlman.  Namely,"How to Carve Leather" being one of these. They may even have taken classes in grade school, 4-H or scouting classes. (I was introduced to leathercraft through Explorer Scouts at age 12 or 13.) 

Verlane lived on the east coast of Florida in Daytona Beach.  Not much Western floral carving designs going on there at that time!  But, by second grade, Verlane was already riding horse and learning about horses through plastic horse models and a plastic skeleton of a horse.  Also in second grade she discovered a book in the school's library - "The Book of Cowboys!" by Holling & Holling.  After checking it out several times the librarian suggested to Verlane that she purchase a copy. During third grade, she found a new copy in a bookstore for only $2.00.  She saved her allowance and bought the book, and continues to enjoy it to this day!  She used to frequent the Farm & Ranch department of Sears & Roebuck where they sold saddles and tack, and little bundles of leather scrap and model horses.

Now that "The Book of Cowboys" copy was her own, she could read and re-read it as often as she liked. Verlane claims most sincerely that this book got her completely "hooked" on leather and decided back then as a seven or eight- year old that leatherwork might be her vocation!  She began receiving Tandy catalogs from which she ordered many kits with how-to instructions and doing the tutorials (leathercraft projects) in the catalogs.  As a teenager she was able to buy many of the Al Stohlman illustrated books.  During the teen years, Verlane was excelling in leathercraft, making a myriad of items from belts to briefcases.

Then came the years spent obtaining a Bachelor Arts degree and a degree in commercial art. Even with the rigorous course of study at the university, still left some time to pursue leatherwork. It was during this time our recipient made the permanent decision to pursue saddlery and leathercraft.

Traveling from Florida to Ralston, Wyoming, Verlane met and apprenticed under the tutelage of one of the top saddle makers in the U.S. —Cliff Ketchum.  Cliff maintained a saddle shop near Hollywood for 30 years where Cliff acquired the title, "Saddle Maker to the Stars."  He has done work for famous actors such as Dale Robertson, Clark Gable and Gary Cooper. These are on display at the Cowboy Hall of Fame. Cliff insisted on integrity, quality and perfection.  A "tough" instructor as he was, our recipient remains ever grateful to him.  He insisted on "quality" even in the smallest detail whether in "manufacturing new pieces" or in doing repair work.

Next it was off to study English Saddlery with its intricate hand sewing, combinations of English leathers where on English saddle can have as many as seven or more different leathers used to make the saddle.

Establishing a saddle shop, South Fork Saddlery, Verlane made many saddles both Western and English. Along with saddles, many pieces of fine leather craft were made and sold, mostly through galleries. Not satisfied with just making and selling leather pieces, our recipient felt compelled to teach.  So it was that wherever the recipient was located, all kinds of leatherwork were taught. Scores of how-to articles found their way to "The Journal"! - Yes, The Leather Crafters & Saddlers Journal.

Teaching leathercraft to beginners or saddlery to the more advanced does not have to be performed on a worldwide or country scope.  Moreover, teaching and dedication to the craft in an area wherein one lives is the key.  Our recipient of tonight has done this and continues to do so in the vicinity of Cody, Wyoming. First, at the North West college of Powell, Wyoming, and then by appointment to the Spokane Falls Community College in Spokane. Washington, teaching the 2-year program of leatherwork. Whether her students were very young, old or ages in between, Verlane was most anxious to teach and give freely of all knowledge withholding nothing. The listings of teachings are extensive, far too many to mention here.

It is our distinct pleasure to confer the 2006 Al Stohlman Award for Achievement, in Leathercraft to Verlane Desgrange of Cody, Wyoming.

"This is the 16th presentation of the Al Stohlman Award for Achievement in Leathercraft". Leather Crafters & Saddlers Journal. July/August 2006: p 16. Print.