Muscatine man turns leather carving hobby into career

MUSCATINE, Iowa (AP) — Bob Husband began with a bible cover.

Using leather he got from a repair shop in Muscatine and paper from his church bulletin as his pattern, he got to work, carving praying hands and “Holy Bible” in block letters.

“My neighbor had a couple tools and I just fooled around with it,” he said.

He didn’t know it then, but it would be his introduction to a post-retirement career in leather carving.

Husband, 76, began his career making ducts out of sheet metal.

“You had to visualize what it was going to look like once you cut it out and formed it all up and made a three-dimensional out of it, so actually it flowed very well into making patterns out of leather,” he said.

Years later, he would become a hospital construction manager, and job stress would bring him to a leather-carving class, where he learned the basics. What began as a hobby grew into a nearly 40-year old career in leather carving.

Husband makes everything from belts to wallets to intricate carvings of Native Americans and animals, the Muscatine Journal ( ) reported.

“I’ve made a lot of pieces and actually, I’ve sold enough that I’ve paid for all my tools and materials,” he said.

Most of his clients learn of him through word of mouth, though some of his work is exhibited at We Can Frame That on 2nd Street.

“I consider myself more of a craftsman than an artist, because most of the pictures I had to take from a picture and trace it along to (the leather),” he said.

Working on one project at a time, he said, it takes him about three weeks to carve a piece that might be hung on someone’s wall. He makes these pieces using cow hides, which he orders from a leather shop in Des Moines.

In its natural state, the hide looks and feels like thin cardboard. Before he gets to work, Husband wets the hide to make it pliable. He copies whatever design he’s working on onto vellum paper, transferring it onto the leather using one of dozens of sharp tools in his workshop. With the pattern on the leather, he creates designs in the leather, raising parts and carving out other parts.

Sometimes, he adds dyes to some areas of the leather.

“When you start coloring the leather, no two pictures would be alike because the leather takes the paint different,” he said.

When he’s done carving, he seals the leather to prevent it from degrading over time.

But regardless of the project and the profit his second vocation brings, he is motivated by passion.

“I enjoy the way it feels, and people enjoy it,” he said.

Information from: Muscatine Journal,

An AP Member Exchange shared by the Muscatine Journal.

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