Thursday, February 12, 2015

Beautiful Waxed Canvas and Leather

Waxed canvas and leather pieces have just arrived!

In 1967, Brendan Smith embarked on a course of artistry that has occupied his life for over forty years. A talented musician and composer, author, gardener and entrepreneur, Brendan steadfastly adhered to a vision of quality and ‘do-it -yourself’ simplicity in his leather artistry and business practices that has stood the test of time. At age seventeen he began sewing leather with a needle and thread then borrowed a sister’s sewing machine. Wedging it inside his bedroom closet, placing a chair in the open door and hanging various tools and findings on the inside of the closet door, he provided himself with a mini leather shop. Many broken needles later, he purchased an aging industrial quality machine and graduated to an attic room where he set up his first real workshop.

When Brendan was seventeen, he cultivated two important relationships: an incongruous friendship with the cowboy owner of a local saddlery shop who mentored him in the nuances of leather craft. At this time he also made friends with a family who owned The Hide House, a local leather supply business. Oberon Design still works with The Hide House, a treasured and honored working friendship of forty-five years. With their help, Brendan developed his skills for precision and design, sketching in notebooks and spending long hours experimenting and creating in situ at the sewing machine. He set up his first retail venue in his hometown, making and selling sandals and hats during the Summer of Love. With his budding success as a craftsman, Brendan began to identify himself with a life of creative process.

During his college years Brendan supported himself with leather craft, expanding into moccasin making, handbags, belts and wearable art in the form of figurative whole-head masks of extraordinary character. He published a ‘how to’ manuscript entitled Brendan’s Leather Book. Humorously well written and illustrated by Brendan, it was favorably reviewed and achieved a healthy round of five editions totaling over 40,000 copies. One Bay Guardian reviewer quipped that “It would charm the hide off a cow." Although out of print, it still enjoys a healthy circulation online and in used bookstores.

Brendan developed a following for his leatherwork during the seventies and eighties under the name Walking Foot Leather. His reputation grew out of his direct rapport with customers in his booth each year at the original Renaissance Pleasure Faires. In the late 1980’s he expanded his business to accommodate a large order for leather fanny packs for a national department store chain. From this expansion sprang the concept of leather journal covers whose popularity in museum shops and gift and book stores across the country lead to the creation of Oberon Design as a company that has flourished since 1992.

Brendan is proud of the fact that the design and casting of the Britannia metal line and all our leather work is done "in house." This combined with his source for domestically tanned leather, use of local and domestic businesses for resources such as non-toxic glues and dyes, thread, zippers, and other items used in our leather and pewter processes, in house production of catalogs and websites, make his studio what it is today, a good old fashioned, hands on, hard working American studio.

I met Brendan in 1970 at a renaissance festival north of San Francisco so it was neat to carry his work in our shop starting in 1995.

We were thrilled to see him a few weeks ago and to see his newest work - iPhone cases and leather/canvas bags.

A part of the attraction of designing bags from waxed canvas is the allure of the practical, yet romantic, history of its use in the seafaring world. The fact that it was originally produced in Scotland, as was a branch of the Smith family, became another fun enticement to delve the history of our materials.

Waxed canvas, linked to oilskin, is tied to the history of clipper ships. Historically, impoverished sailors would sew scraps of ruined or discarded sails and rub them with linseed oil to create a water proof poncho that protected their skin from harsh weather conditions at sea.  In the mid 1800’s, taking a cue from history, a Scottish mill that contracted as a sail maker for the British military fleet, responded to the creation of fast moving clipper ships by replacing flax sails, for sails made from cotton impregnated with linseed oil. This strengthened the sails, keeping them lighter and more waterproof in heavy gales. This trend rapidly spread to protective clothing worn by fishermen and sailors, who now, not weighted down by sodden clothing, could respond more quickly to dangerous situations. Linseed oil treatments were replaced with paraffin wax in the 1930’s, a big improvement over linseed which hardened and cracked with age.

Water resistant waxed canvas garments expanded from nautical use, becoming profoundly useful to farmers and outdoorsmen, not just Britain, but New Zealand and America. Co-opted by the military and motorcycle enthusiasts during the world war periods, waxed canvas gained a foothold in the fashion and millinery world. Use of waxed canvas in bags and clothing is enjoying yet another renaissance as contemporary Americans once again favor the practical in durable, quality materials that last a lifetime.CARE AND CLEANING OF WAXED CANVAS
You NEVER want to do this:
• Never wash your bag in the washing machine.
• Never use warm or hot water to clean it.
• Never have it dry cleaned
• Never use detergent, solvent or starch.
How to clean my waxed canvas and leather bag:
• Shake or brush off dirt, sand or any other abrasive material
• For small spots, use cold water and mild soap, and a sponge or brush.
• With a little soap, gently massage the spotted surface.
• Rinse with a sponge and cold water. Let the bag air dry.
Depending on how much hard use your back gets, at some time you may consider re-waxing it. This can be done professionally or at home.
• Use Otter Wax or Martexin Wax, or an approved product, made for this purpose, only.
• Messenger bag should be clean and dry.
• Lay as flat as possible using a table or ironing board.
• Using a soft cloth to apply the wax, rub down the entire bag as evenly as possible.
• If the wax isn’t pliable enough, warm it slightly by submerging the container in warm water or wax the bag and then let it sit in the sun to soften and impregnate the canvas.

We have a nice selection of his work so we hope you'll stop in and see it!

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