Leather Artisan Posts

Finding Artisans in Halifax Area and Beyond

Posted on: August 2nd, 2018 by Quentin Burns

Discover Galleries & Studios of Local Artisans in Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia has a rich arts and crafts tradition. The beautiful natural scenery and the community-focused spirit have combined to make a place where local art is thriving and celebrated. Many artisans in Nova Scotia live solely on their craft, while others do it on a part-time professional basis. Whether you’re visiting for the first time or whether you’ve lived here for years, these resources will help you find new places and events to explore.

Discover artisan studios in Halifax / Dartmouth and beyond.

Halifax Art Map used to discover artisan studios in Halifax / Dartmouth and beyond.

Halifax Art Map

Leathersmith Designs is proud to be a featured location on the 2018-19 Halifax Art Map. The guide has been running since 2002. Leathersmith Designs has been appearing in it since 2016, alongside dozens of other amazing artists and craftspeople from the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM).

I called Keith McPhail, the advertising and business coordinator of the Halifax Art Map, to ask about how the guide started and where it is headed. I thought I had only a few simple questions which would take him a few minutes to answer. At the end of our hour-long phone conversation, I realized how much I hadn’t known about the Halifax art community. Much of my own city and industry are still mysterious to me.

That’s the mission statement of Art Maps: to de-mystify the mystery. Their goal is to make people aware of what’s out there, to get people through the doors of small workshops and studios. Above all, they ultimately want to guide consumers towards finding a piece of art they can fall in love with.

How Halifax Art Maps Started

In 2002, Keith was working for the city in the Tourism and Culture department. “Culture” was a new addition at the time. They didn’t have much funding or much of a concrete game-plan. They were approached by a group of artists who wanted to highlight local art, to combat a perceived lack of knowledge by the public. Thus the Art Map was born.

In its first year the map covered only Downtown Halifax and Dartmouth, and was focused on the tourism market. There was no money available from the city that year, so the project was funded solely by ads. The response exceeded expectations. They learned there was a lot of local interest and local discovery happening as a result of the map. Therefore, they decided to expand the goals of the project.

In the second year they received matching grants (one each from the province and municipality) for three years to develop the project (print layout, website, distribution). Later they added an annual exhibition. In the last six years they added social media, and the Art Map solidified into its modern form. Nowadays, the market for the map is half tourists and half residents of Nova Scotia.

How do they find Artists?

The Halifax Art Map relies strongly on word of mouth from participants. Artists recommend the map to other artists, and recommend new artists to the map.

Artists can apply to be featured at the Halifax Art Map website. The Halifax Art Map doesn’t have any restrictions on what type of artists can apply, but they do vet their artists for professionalism. They want to feature people who are serious about doing art professionally. The goal of the project, according to Keith, is “helping local artists and craftspeople make a sustainable living”.

Where to find Halifax Art Maps

You can find Halifax Art Maps at every featured artist location, at Visitor Information Centres in the HRM, and at some larger Visitor Information Centres across Nova Scotia. They are in Halifax and Dartmouth hotels, at the Halifax cruise ship pavilion, and at and the Halifax and Dartmouth ferry terminals. They are also distributed at conferences, to reach visiting professionals from all over the world. If you’re planning a vacation, Halifax Art Maps has an online artisan directory where you can search for artists by area or category.

Keith told me hotel concierges proved to be unexpected gold as a resource. They get to know the map, and remark on the changes and updates to it year after year. Even more, they are great at getting maps into the hands of serious art and craft lovers … AND they talk up the local scene.

The library and their branches were also a surprise as they help distribute maps to all their 17 branches. They help get it into the hands of locals as part of their mandate and service as information providers.

If you’re in the Dartmouth area, stop by Leathersmith Designs to pick up a free copy of the map. Jamie Hartling, our master leatherworker, has been a dedicated member of the Nova Scotia crafting community since 1975. He can give you a tour of the leathercraft shop and tell you all about the local leatherworking scene.

Creations of the artisan as well as useful and interesting info on the crafter / artist shown in the printed Halifax Art Map as well as on the Halifax Map website.

The Halifax Art Map in both print form and on the web displays the creations of the artisan as well as useful and interesting info on the crafter / artist.

Who is the Halifax Art Map Team?

For Keith, Art Maps a labor of love. Its creators have all worked in the arts themselves and are passionate about supporting the Nova Scotian crafting community. Keith (second from right) and Kathryn Fraser (third from right) are the core team. Together they do add sales, coordinate exhibits, and organize artist talks. As of this writing, there is a Halifax Art Map event coming up at the Halifax Public Library on how to buy art. To keep up with current craft and artisan events, you can follow the Halifax Art Map Facebook page.

Jane Lombard (far right) is their graphic designer and works on the Halifax Art Map part-time for about three months each year. Peter Eastwood is the webmaster for the Halifax Art Map website, and puts in about one month full time.

Then, of course, there are the featured artists and craftspeople. Every year, Kathryn stops by to talk with Jamie Hartling about the state of Art Maps. Art Maps began as a scheme by a group of Halifax artisans, and aims to stay true to its roots as a “community collaboration”.

Halifax Art Map release in 2016 listing artisans.

Jamie Hartling (leather artisan on left) attending a Halifax Art Map release in 2016 with some of the key Halifax Art Map organizers.

New Directions for Halifax Art Map

Every year the Art Maps team makes decisions on how best to keep supporting artists in their community. Every year they decide to keep the map in printed form. It is now one of few surviving publications in Nova Scotia. Although paper costs continue to go up and the format of the map is expensive, Keith says it’s important for the map to look good, to represent the quality of the art inside it. It’s also important that it remain a tactile piece, because the core buyers of art are familiar with a tactile world. However, the demographic is slowly changing, so the decision must be made anew every year.

This year, they are also considering a new service. They are looking into options for how Art Maps might help facilitate marketing plans for individual artists and small galleries. When Keith spoke to me he was getting ready to attend a seminar on the subject. He told me the next step is to go out and talk to members of the community about what they would want from such a program.

Nova Scotia Doers and Dreamers Travel Guide features Artisans in Nova Scotia

The Province of Nova Scotia Tourism publishes a comprehensive travel guide called “The Doers and Dreamers Travel Guide“. You can request to have it mailed to you anywhere around the world. You can also pick up the guide at any of the Nova Scotia provincial tourist bureaus. On the Nova Scotia Tourism website under the “See and Do” heading ,you can find a section on “Galleries, Shops, and Artisans”. As of 2018 there are 170 listed. While the Halifax Art Map focuses on artists in the Halifax area, this guide is province-wide. It features many small studios and creative artisans off the beaten path.

Artisans in Nova Scotia found on provincial website.

Viewing galleries, shops and artisans in Nova Scotia, Canada on the provincial tourism website.

Citizens of Craft

Citizens of Craft is a good resource for finding craftspeople and artisans in Nova Scotia, as well as across Canada. You can search by location, type of establishment (museums, studios, galleries, etc.), and craft type. There is a diverse array on offer. You can find sculptors, leather workers, fibre artists, glass blowers, furniture makers, metal workers, potters, jewelers, and more. Artisans featured on Citizens of Craft are all registered members of their provincial craft councils, which promote quality in craft.

Artisans from across Canada featured in this national craft directory "Citizens of Craft".

Citizens of Craft is an online directory of artisans from across Canada.

More Sources for Finding Artisans in Nova Scotia

Provincial craft organizations such as Craft Nova Scotia, Arts Nova Scotia, Visual Arts Nova Scotia and Centre for Craft Nova Scotia can put you in touch with the craft community and artisans in Nova Scotia. Even more, there are many regional and local organizations such as the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design, Halifax Crafters Society, Dartmouth Handcrafters Guild, and Maritime Makers. Various craft shows throughout the year also provide a great opportunity to meet artisans coming to your area.

Discover the uniqueness and quality of individually handmade crafts. Besides that, nothing is more memorable when visiting an area than purchasing a one of a kind piece by a local artisan, or watching a handcrafted item being created before you in their studio.

Leather handcrafts tooled by leather craftsman in Dartmouth, NS. studio.

Artisan at leather craft studio in Dartmouth, NS shown hand tooling design on leather guitar strap.


Leather Belts Made From Which Types Of Leather?

Posted on: November 12th, 2016 by Jamie @ Leathersmith Designs

Genuine Leather Belts?

What types of leather belts are you getting when the store clerk tells you “These are real leather belts”? Are all types of leather belts the same quality when they are imprinted “Genuine Leather”? Not all leathers are the same quality and you will learn that even some leather terminology is misleading. Therefore when you are told an item is made of real leather or genuine leather, that is too vague. You must know the specific type of leather used in order to understand the belt’s quality as not all leather belts are created equal.

Types of Leather For Belts

The cattle hides are very thick and the tannery usually splits the hide thickness into a number of layers.  The top layer of the hide which is closest to the animal’s hair is called “Top Grain Leather”.  The grain is only in this top layer of the hide.  Top grain leather is a general term as it refers to both Full Grain Leather and Corrected Grain Leather. The layers under the top grain are called split leather. All of these layers are genuine leather but are of vastly different qualities, strength and cost. Let me explain the differences between the types of leather.

Splitting leather hides into different layers.

At the tannery, thick leather hides are split into different layers.

Full Grain Leather Belts

Full grain leather is the best quality of genuine leather used by belt makers. The full and untouched grain surface is present. Beautiful unique markings are visible such as grain patterns, hair cells and any natural healed scars on the full grain leather belts. This is the strongest and most valuable layer of the hide. Remember that full grain leather is a specific leather term that falls under the general category of top grain leather.

From the various types of leather, full grain leather is the belt leather for making belts.

This full grain leather belt is one solid thickness. Full grain leather is the highest quality leather from the various types of leather.

Corrected Grain Leather Belts

Corrected Grain Leather is the 2nd best quality of genuine leather used in making belts. Excessive scars and scratches are buffed and sanded from the grain to remove imperfections. Typically, the tannery covers the surface with heavy pigmented finish coats so the original grain is no longer visible. This leather is often embossed with a grain to simulate hair cell patterns. Corrected grain leather is another specific leather term that falls under the general category of top grain leather.

Split Leather Belts

Split Leather is the third best quality of genuine leather that is used to make belts. It is often finished and embossed to simulate a top grain leather. However, split leather is not as high a quality and much less expensive. Splits are often used for suede and are not as durable as top grain leather. The further the split is from the top grain layer, the dramatically weaker it becomes. In other words a flesh split, which is farthest below the grain and next to the meat, is real cheap junk.

Bonded Leather Belts

Be careful because Bonded Leather is not genuine leather. Chewed up leather fibers are pasted together to form a manufactured sheet of man-made material. Bonded leather is also sometimes called reconstituted leather and fiber leather. The percentage of leather particles in bonded leather varies greatly between manufacturers. Buyer beware as bonded leather tears easily. It is often imprinted and finished to imitate a top grain leather. Unfortunately, the vast number of belts in stores are made of bonded leather which is a very cheap quality material. Most bonded leather belts consequently break in a short period of time.

Bonded leather compared to genuine leather would be similar to comparing particle board to solid wood. In wood work, you wouldn’t build your quality dining room furniture from particle board. Nor would a leather artisan be able to build a strong durable belt from bonded leather.

Bonded leather belt tearing apart.

Bonded leather is not genuine leather as you can see in this belt which tore easily.

Leather Terms For Marketing Belts

Marketers often try to impress buyers by misusing and distorting leather terms. Imprinted terms on products sometimes portray what you want to hear and often only refer to one material used to make the product. The imprint on the back of the belt that says “Real Leather” could actually mean that the belt only has a paper thin layer of split leather adhered to cardboard and vinyl.

The following video shows belts that were brought into our leather shop by customers that had purchased them elsewhere. Unfortunately, these belts shown to us had broken, torn or fallen apart. We took these belts apart to see if the imprinted leather term on the back of the belt accurately portrayed the materials used to make a perceived quality leather belt.

Video discussing leather terms imprinted on belts and dissecting the leather belts.

In conclusion, your best guarantee to insure you are getting a solid full grain leather belt is to purchase it from a leather shop that actually makes the belts. Luckily, there are still lots of leather artisans that continue to individually handcraft their belts from quality leather hides.

Holes punched in handmade leather belts by leather artisan.

Leather craftsman punching holes in handmade belts.


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