Last week I visited Pergamena, a leather tannery in Montgomery, NY. Most of the vegetable-tanned leathers they produce are for bookbinders, where a major concern is acid-free archival quality material. This photo shows soft and flexible soling material for bowling shoes — the “nap” of the leather is finished to run one way, so that you can slide right into your bowling lane.
At just over two hours away by car, I am fairly sure this is the closest leather tannery to my studio in Holyoke. If you had asked me six months ago, I would have said there were *no* tanneries at all close to me. There are certainly only a handful left in the US. I got to sniff the stack of wet leather below–very mineral.
Most of the leather that I use for making “uppers” (literally, the upper portion of the shoe, as opposed to the lower insoles, soles and heels) comes from overseas. On occasion I have made uppers from vegetable tanned leathers, but many people prefer the softness of chrome tans, or the deep, rich look of an oil-stuffed leather. The process of making vegetable (here, chestnut) tanned leather is much better for the earth. Also, this is a serious local product. No ships required to get this to my studio. Below, sheepskin:
I bought a few skins to try. I love the rustic look of this material–you can see that it came from an animal, in this case a goat, which Stephen Meyer says are plentiful in the US. He also tans cow, sheep and alpaca.
One of Pergamena’s clients is Marlow Goods in Brooklyn. Nose-to-tail-to-handbag, they butcher their cows, sell the meat, and send the hides up to Montgomery, where they are then tanned and sent back to Brooklyn for making into bags and wallets. Meyer told me that Parsons also sent a class for a tour at Pergamena, research for design and development of a line of local leather and wool products. The future is here.
The machine below is used for scraping/fleshing the leather. Although it looks dangerous, Stephen said it was relatively easy to use. I’ll trust him on that.
Stay tuned for an update on what I end up making with this leather!