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Leatherworker creates unique gifts from scratch

Ray Hicks creates with leather and sells his products locally.  - Seraine Page
Ray Hicks creates with leather and sells his products locally.
— image credit: Seraine Page

 

Ray Hicks has been doing leatherwork for so long that he can do it with his eyes closed.

In fact, the leatherworker once taught a blind girl how to create her own pieces. He would close his eyes as he worked to better understand how things felt in the darkness. Then, he would relay instructions on to her. The only thing he wouldn’t let her do was dye leather.

“She could stitch like crazy. It was a blast (teaching her),” he said. “The only thing to stop someone from learning is not trying.”

Hicks, owner of Hawk & Dove, has been learning ever since 1996 when he first picked up the trade. Since then, he’s been customizing leather with a specialty focus on the historic aspect of leatherwork. He especially enjoys membership in the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc., an organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th century Europe.

All his leather comes from scrap leather, but with it he can make most any product he wishes.

“It’s a hobby that’s run amuck,” said Hicks. “I just love doing. I love making stuff. I love creating.”

The Gorst resident recently finished building his second shop this summer in his backyard to have more space for his hobby gone wild. It’s in this space where he creates hand-laced pouches, purses and knife sheaths, and where he teaches a fellow leatherworker how to do what he does. He’s got three industrial sewing machines, and dozens of tools that would make any craftsmen drool. He also has presses to emboss special designs onto items like belts and purses. His most popular selling item are belts, which cost $35.

Hicks, a security officer on Naval Base Bangor, said he spends between 25 to 30 hours in his shop preparing for re-enactment medieval shows he attends throughout the year. Because he works out of his home, he’ll ship items and has sent his work as far as Australia. In his shop, layers upon layers of punched out leather sits in stacks on shelves so he can easily tote it to shows and start working on items as he’s selling.

Sometimes, Hicks finds that his work ends up in surprising places. Like the leather mugs that were featured in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. And the knife sheaths that the pirates carried swords in.

At one of the shows Hicks attended, “prop house” employees came out in search of items for an upcoming movie. Several of Hicks’ items were bought in bulk, and it wasn’t until after the movies came out that he realized that’s where all his items went. Later he found out that one of the leather mugs he made that was used by Johnny Depp was actually auctioned off for cancer research.

“It’s a big deal for us,” he said, noting that many of his pieces have been in B-roll films as well.

His wife, Patty, gets excited when she sees her husband’s work on the big screen.

“When you watch the movie, you look for them,” she said of the leather products.

Over the years, as she’s watched his hobby grow, she thinks his work has improved over the years. She’s also taken over a small corner of his shop to do her own crafting, like calligraphy.

“He just keeps getting better and better,” she said.

Having someone to teach the craft to also helps, which is one reason Hicks happily schools eager learner James Brennan.

Brennan lives just a few miles down the road from Hicks, which makes it convenient for frequent lessons. He said no matter how much he learns, Hicks will always be his teacher.

“It’s something I’ll pass down,” he said of the trade. “My grandfather was a leatherworker. It’s in my blood.”

His wife won’t even buy belts in the store anymore. The quality just isn’t the same as one that’s handcrafted and made with care.

“All her belts are made by me,” Brennan said.

As for the master teacher, Hicks has seen customers he’s sold bags to in the 1990s who still carry them, which brings pride to him in doing what he does. It’s how he knows what he’s making is good quality.

“We don’t make junk,” he said. “I try to do stuff that isn’t massed produced. I make something they haven’t made in ages.”

Hicks’ work can be found locally inside one Silverdale shop, called Carol’s Chainsaw Creations. The owner carries several of his handcrafted purses and planter holders, which last outside in varying temperatures. He also shows items on Etsy, but mostly just takes orders that are generated by word of mouth.

Looking around his shop at his supplies and stockpile, Hicks can’t believe he’s been at it for almost 20 years.

“I never dreamed it would get this big,” said Hicks. “It’s an addiction.”

Contact Ray Hicks at hawkanddove2000@hotmail.com to inquire about pricing and products.

 

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