Leather Man: A Fine Piece Of Verk
By David McDonald
Imagine, if you will, an engine made out of leather. A fire hose made out of leather. A gasket made out of leather. Chris Tekverk, an internationally known leatherworker who lives and works just outside of Hawthorne Valley in Ghent, has made them all. And more.
Tekverk, who came from York City and Long Island before moving up to Columbia County, has done private work for Tom Brady. Yes, that Tom Brady, the football player. He has made menu holders for Fish & Game Restaurant in Hudson, wrapped handrails on yachts in the Caribbean, and designed a wall-sized Yankee logo made out of leather for a wall in Yankee Stadium. Oh, and he also makes hats and belts and things.
“I don’t know when I’ll stop. It seems there is always something that can be made out of leather that I haven’t done yet,” he says. An airplane made out of leather? Don’t laugh, Tekverk has probably thought about it already.
In the old days, just about everything was made out of leather. That was before metal, plastic, and other materials were found to be more useful, or disposable, or convenient.
Tekverk got started working with leather in the early 1970s very much a part of that era’s back-to-nature aesthetic. That he’s made a career out of working with the material, he attributes to no less than a miracle.
“For me, it’s almost a spiritual pursuit, so I feel very lucky to be able to do it. I’ve been working with leather for over forty years and do the majority of it by hand. I have many hand tools that date back to the 19th century, and a few machines that are almost as old. I feel there’s more life and meaning in work done by hand,” he says. “Single pieces and work made in small quantities have a certain quality not found in mass-produced objects. They seem to glow or sometimes emit an aura that is recognized by the human spirit.”
A visit to Tekverk’s workshop will evoke a lot of memories for anyone who ever did leather shop at summer camp. They say that smell is the most evocative of all the senses, and Tekverk’s shop is a feast for the nose.
It is also, most distinctly, a feast for the eyes. You take one look around Tekverk’s work area and you know there’s certainly a reason why people like Tom Brady come a-knockin’. Tekverk is just that good. And the product has character unlike any other. It is beautiful in its aesthetic, but it also jumps with personality. With soul. With spirit.
As is usual with things of special quality, it isn’t easy for Tekverk. Working with leather is extremely labor intensive, and hours and hours go into the fashioning of each item. Everything that Tekverk makes is “made to order,” so prices vary widely, as does selection. In this particular case, it’s better to think outside the box: a hatbox in this case, which Chris, coincidentally, makes ($375), as well as handbags (between $800 and $2,500); wallets ($125- $500); desk accessories like pencil cups, menu holders, or waste receptacles (between $75 and $250). It’s not only the amount of work that goes into the production of each piece that contributes to the price point, but also the total engagement of the artisan making them. “It’s certainly not about the money,” he says. “It’s about the mystery of creativity. Every time I make a piece of my work, I’m transported elsewhere. It’s the only time in life I feel closer to the infinite.”
Loads of us who live in this area consider trips to Hawthorne Valley to be little vacations in a day. Whether it’s the beauty of the valley itself, the spirit of creativity that seems to emanate from the town, or the simple attraction of having lunch outdoors on a summer day outside the Hawthorne Valley Market, there’s almost always something magical about a visit to the town. Something very soothing. A visit to Tekverk’s workshop (made by appointment only) might be described as The Hawthorne Valley-est experience of them all. Tekverk tried for years to live as much off the grid as he could, so his house, like his workspace, is mostly handmade, filled with an astounding array of pulleys and doodads that heat the house, feed water to the showers, and irrigate the plants. It’s like the interior of Mary Poppins’ purse, plus the smell of a woodstove and a dash of good vibes. And if you’re lucky, Chris may invite you for a tour within. It’s one of those local experiences that is not to be missed.
Chris Terkverk Leather
By appointment only
163 County Route 21c
Ghent, NY 12075-1920