Bill Amberg has been covering anything and everything in leather since 1984. Obviously he finds leather versatile. But more than that Bill uses words for leather that tanners are not accustomed to, like ferocious, acoustic and thermal.
He takes his audience through a history of the technology from parchment and vellum, which are untanned but still incredibly useful, through Neolithic chappies discovering that vegetable materials can fill in the gaps in the fibres and make leather, past alum tawing and onto the new more chemical discovery of chromium tanning.
For the craftsman he notes that chromium is not so sympathetic to use. It is not so pliable, so easy to mold as vegetable tanned leather and is not so easy to pattern. He loves his oak bark leathers, and the colour and feel of mimosa tannage. This is no fleeting romance; this is a love affair with leather. He is fussy about leather. What he sees inside a motor is “hideous” – not like leather should be at all. Sadly this is what many consumes end up considering to be leather.
In France they eat the most veal, hence they have the best calf skin
Bill only uses a handful of tanneries, nearly all in Europe. He explains that leather comes from the meat industry and in France they eat the most veal, hence have the best calf skin. Spain and southern France have great lamb and goat, hence the best sheepskins and goatskins and in the UK and northern Europe consumers like beef so tanners have the best oak bark tanned hides. Icelanders do more fishing than most, so is the obvious place to go for fish skins – salmon and wolf fish for example. A bit simplistic perhaps, but a position which contains a lot of truth.
He talks of leather in terms of four variables – scale, colour, texture and finish. In scale he makes the point that some cattle hides will give an area of over 50 square feet without the need for a seam or break. You have to think about the proportions and what panel size you will choose. You can go for a natural tanned colour from the vegetable or a dyed colour, or even an effect that will change colour when pulled over. He loves the beautiful grain of calf skin. And the different sections of vegetable hide. He explains about back, butts, bellies and shoulders. He loves that in the shoulders made for saddlery there is no attempt made to hide the character of the skin.
If you cover something in leather you expect it to be touched
Shrunken grain effects is an area of delight especially unexpected shrunken effects like sheep; and he knows how to access the quickly produced print plates to put special effects onto selected areas of smoother vegetable leathers. Texture is important in this work. Indeed the word “touchpoints” comes up a lot.