About Leather School
Leather School’s tutors are drawn from experienced leather workers and plenty of passion for their own leather crafting, which they love to share with others. They tend to be people who are currently working, or have previously worked, at the Tanner Bates leather production workshop, where they have put in the graft and learnt their craft. We also ensure that our tutors have what it takes to impart their skills and knowledge so that all Leather School students feel fully supported in their learning.
Martin’s love of crafting and creating work with his hands stretches right back to his childhood. Leather School is located in Dartington and back in the day Martin was a Fine Art degree student at Dartington College of Arts, where he developed skills in making and designing using a range of materials. The college was part of Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst’s vision for rejuvenating arts and crafts, and this continues into the 21st Century with Dartington’ Craft Revolution, which Leather School partners with to run courses. Since graduating, Martin has worked in education and professional development for organisations including Exeter and Plymouth universities, Devon County Council and the NHS, as well as exam boards including AQA and Edexcel. He was one of a pioneering group of educators designing and implementing new techniques for skills based teaching and learning in Devon. Along with being Leather School’s manager, Martin brings his finely tuned experience of how people learn practical skills and combines this with his own practice as an artist and leather maker to enable students to feel confident whilst also challenging them to extend their skills.
At Leather School we love to help people find their passion for leather work and watch it grow. Berian has been through the whole process. When Berian started on a Leather School two hour workshop it was clear from the word go that he was going to be unstoppable. An opportunity opened up for him to work at the Tanner Bates leather workshop (where Leather School is based) and he jumped right in with both feet. Since then Berian has put in thousands of workshop hours of cutting, stitching and crafting beautiful leather products, and still goes home and makes more in his spare time. Berian also revealed that he had a hidden gift for teaching; his ability to make people feel comfortable and undaunted by making that first cut into a precious piece of vegetable tanned leather is a wonderous thing. Before you know it, Berian will have given you the confidence and skill to create something really impressive.
Paul’s love of leather work is infectious; he has huge respect for the material and traditions and delights in sharing his nuggets of knowledge and understanding, gained from his deep engagement with leatherwork over time. Since 2014, Paul has been honing his skills professionally, initially working for Tanner Bates, teaching at Leather School and now developing his own business working with textiles; leather is a key component, worked together with difficult to recycle materials. Paul also creates stunning leather falconry equipment where he fully displays his craftsmanship. Acknowledging the origins of the hides is important to Paul, he says “I respect each piece I work with because it was a living being at one point and I feel it is important to remember that.” Paul enjoys engaging with each person that he teaches, encouraging them to continue developing the skills that he has taught them. He also recognises that teaching is reciprocal – he gets a lot back from the students: “my favourite aspect of teaching is when I see a former student successfully developing their own brand and style to present to the public!”
The Leather School Story
The story of Leather School is firmly entwined with the work of its founder, John Hagger. John’s grandfather was a leatherworker and when John decided on a change in career direction he found himself drawn back to these family roots. He trained in the saddlery tradition in Walsall, where leather saddle making has been practiced over hundreds of years, expanding rapidly during the 18th and 19th centuries. Despite the decline that hit all traditional craft production, saddlery making in Walsall continued through the late 20th century and has seen a real revival in interest in the skills and products over the last two decades. Most of Leather School’s tutors have been trained by John, so the skills and techniques that participants learn on our courses are firmly embedded in these centuries’ old practices.
John has become a leading figure in the renaissance of English leather skills, establishing an international reputation as a craftsperson who uses the traditions of his trade combined with the use of locally tanned leather. In 2018 Leather School was approached by the Museum of London and Kingston University to work in partnership on the London Roman Leather Project (researching techniques used by the Romans in their production and use of leather) John has been advising on the techniques that would have been employed to make a variety of different items (he was surprised to find advanced techniques that are still used today)
When John established himself as a maker, under the Tanner Bates brand, he knew that South Devon would be an ideal place to work. His first studio was at Dartington Hall Trust, where the Elmhirst family had pioneered art and craft education in the 1920s. Devon also has the only surviving Oak Bark Tannery in the UK which is used by Tanner Bates to provide the highest quality English leather. Provenance is important to John, he says: “I know the people by name who provide my raw materials; hides from the nearby oak bark tannery, buckles from the Walsall foundry. From time to time I tan the skins of locally-culled deer from the Dartington Estate and nearby Dartmoor.”
After his training in Walsall, John began sharing his knowledge of the traditions in workshops and at craft camps. He has always taken delight in how transformative the experience is for his students; learning an ancient craft to create something treasured and practical with their own hands. Over the years John has facilitated many people in gather skills that can be honed and developed over time, and transferred to a huge range of different projects and products.
In 2010 John decided to consolidate his leatherwork teaching under the name ‘Leather School’, to operate alongside the Tanner Bates production business. In 2017 John moved both Tanner Bates and Leather School to brand new premises in Dartington. To say that John has been chuffed with the move would be an understatement; by providing Leather School with modern teaching and learning facilities, John knows that he is providing a fantastic foundation for traditional and contemporary leather working techniques to continue to be taught far into the future.