Preston area man is leather craftsman

Feb 21st, 2017 | By | Category: Featured
Preston area resident Marvin Graham talks about this leather creations in his shop recently. John Zsiray/Herald Journal

Preston area resident Marvin Graham talks about this leather creations in his shop recently.
John Zsiray/Herald Journal

By Amy Macavinta
Herald Journal

Marvin Graham’s home sits on a 50-acre parcel of land southwest of Preston on a bluff overlooking the Bear River. Inside, a fire crackles in the wood stove, but ice crystals still formed on the window, framing the view of the river bottoms below.

This is where Graham spends his time transforming smooth sheets of leather into any number of products, from custom bridles or gun holsters to belts and ladies’ purses. Or sometimes he adds a magic touch to stiff old leather, bringing new life to a saddle.

“I didn’t consider it art for a long time, until a lot of people started telling me — that’s artwork. I started thinking, I guess it really is,” he said. “Not everybody has the knack to do it. It’s something you can pick up if you do enough of it, but there’s a difference between being good at it and doing a lot of it, and just puttering with it.”

Graham was born in Idaho, but when he was 3, his family moved to California. Ironically, a church mission took him right back to Pocatello, where he met his wife, Helen.

Uncle Sam had another mission in mind for him, though. Graham signed up for the U.S. Navy after receiving his draft notice and spent three years building sonar equipment during the Vietnam War. It was during some of those long days out to sea that Graham first met another sailor who did some leather work. He thought of Helen, an accomplished horse trainer, and thought she would like a hand-made belt, so he asked the other man to make one for her.

The finished product wasn’t what he had in mind, though and he thought even as a beginner, he could do it better himself. So, he ordered a kit, he made that belt, and then he just kept creating.

Hand-tooling leather requires an eye for design, steady hand and more than a little patience.

Graham said when the leather is wet it becomes pliant, allowing him to transform a blank piece of leather into one with texture and design created with a carefully selected stainless steel stamp and a mallet.

While there are some tools that are a design unto itself, many designs are created free-hand. A pattern is pressed or cut into the leather, then little by little, Graham stamps in a curve or adds a shape.

A beveled tool applied here and there adds depth while other tools add texture, all coming together to form larger leaves, floral designs and more.

After the war, Graham worked for Tandy Leather before he and Helen opened their own custom leather shop in Pocatello. Graham said they worked there together for several years making all kinds of leather goods, including chaps and sheepskin coats. During this time, he started building custom saddles as well.

The Grahams closed their shop after the very premature birth of one of their children. Graham took a job with UPS and they moved the business into their basement and and he did leather work on the side.

He made a career out of the change, staying with the company until he retired, but his leather work is still very much in demand, and all by word of mouth.

“I stay just as busy as I want to be,” he said.

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