Artisans of the West – Heather Baumgartner

Our March 2013 issue featured the Ultimate Artisans of the West. Over the next few months, we’ll profile some of the talented artisans we met, and whose work we fell in love with. To see the full feature, order the back issue.

Heather Baumgartner may have grown up in the heart of Saskatchewan’s prairie metropolis of Regina, but she always dreamt of becoming a cowgirl.

Heather Baumgartner

Spruce Grove, Alberta
Leather Crafter

Heather Baumgartner may have grown up in the heart of Saskatchewan’s prairie metropolis of Regina, but she always dreamt of becoming a cowgirl.

“From as early as I can remember, I was drawing horses and began riding with friends in high school.  It wasn’t until years later – in the early 90’s – that I got my first horse and began showing. It was the start of both my show career and my interest in the artistry of the leather craft,” says the striking craftswoman from Spruce Grove, Alberta.

The seed of Baumgartner’s burgeoning chap and leather crafting business really got started many years ago with a young girl who loved to sew.

In her home studio Baumgartner surrounds herself with western artistry and gains inspiration from both western artisans and the style of today’s fashion.

“As a kid I would sew my own clothes, and later in life I even made a few dress shirts for my husband. Then, about 15 years ago, a fellow down the road needed someone to sew chaps – so I built a few sets of basic chaps for his leather shop – it wasn’t until about four years ago that I decided to take up the artistry of leather making and focused on honing my skills in leather carving.”

From a small Tandy Leather Christmas gift, a number of classes with Ed Collard at the local leather shop and a few trips to classes to Wyoming and Arizona artisan workshops, Baumgartner taught herself the fundamentals. Then, with the help of folks like Don Butler, Andy Stevens, Doug Krause, Bob Park, Steve Mecum and local artisan Peter Swales, she started to refine her skills as a leather maker and established HB Leather on the farm she and her husband Darren own near Spruce Grove, Alberta.

“The biggest challenge is establishing a unique pattern – I like to design pieces that are both stylish and comfortable for the rider.”

In her humble way, she credits her fellow horsepeople for the flourishing demand for her chaps and leatherwork.

“Of course, the business grew from our connection to the performance horse industry. After a dozen years of showing cow horses, reiners and some ranch cutting horses you get to know some great people. It is through those connections and friendships that I’ve been able to continue to grow the business.”

In her humble way, she credits her fellow horsepeople for the flourishing demand for her chaps and leatherwork.

In her home studio Baumgartner surrounds herself with western artistry and gains inspiration from both western artisans and the style of today’s fashion.

“The biggest challenge is establishing a unique pattern – I like to design pieces that are both stylish and comfortable for the rider.”

One of her favourite styles is the use of “finger carving” that she’s worked into both the front and back of many chaps.

Studying the work of Sheridan-style leather makers from years past, testing her designs with countless drawings, and a lot of “test” leather pieces later she’s worked in a few favourites, such as incorporating a daisy into a few designs – “that received a lot of positive buzz!” One of her favourite styles is the use of “finger carving” that she’s worked into both the front and back of many chaps.

~ Ingrid Schulz

Editor’s Note: We’re excited to have the opportunity to showcase a piece of Heather’s work at the Western Horse Review booth this week at the Canadian Supreme in Red Deer. Be sure to come by and view our selection of western artisans work at the booth.

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