Leather Work
Hand-Tooled Leather Belt
Collaboration with Federal Prisoners

I taught a drawing class in a Federal Women’s Prison for two years. In addition to drawing, the prison offered a range of courses including ceramics, painting, and leathercraft. All other classes were inmate taught. After learning that two of my students were the leathercraft instructors, I shared with them my dream of learning to tool leather.

Inmates worked jobs inside the prison where the average pay was about 5 cents an hour. They saved their money to enroll in courses and purchase art supplies. But a week later a strip of raw leather was in my classroom. One of the inmates said she “found it in a closet” and wanted to teach me how to make a belt.

We worked together to develop a design, basically their design because they thought my ideas were terrible, and over the course of a few months, we slowly made a belt together. I now wear the belt as a work of art and both a remembrance and celebration of their lives.