The snipping of scissors and the sound of leather punching are almost inaudible under the loud chatter and laughter that take place in the lower level of the Peter White Library.
Scraps of leather piled on the counter, leather punchers, scissors and patterns scattered on the tables; it wouldn’t take long for one to figure out this is a leather workshop put on by the Northern Center for Lifelong Learning (NCLL), an organization that puts together a number of educational programs and events that is open to anyone.
On Thursday, Aug. 22, leatherworker Al Winfield hosted just one of the many leather workshops that offers a hands-on experience in making a variety of leather creations.
“We make whatever somebody requests to do,” Winfield said. “We’ve done belts, we’ve done moccasins, purses, knife sheaths, bookmarks and coin purses.”
Winfield said that while he’s only taught about eight leather workshops at this point, he has been in the leather-making business for 20 years.
“Before I retired, I did belts and knife sheaths for guys at Presque Isle Power Plant,” Winfield said. “I probably did 100 belts up there. I think everybody had a belt and everybody wears a pocket knife and I did many pocket knives.”
Winfield said he originally wanted to learn the art of airbrushing while he was in college but instead of taking an eight-week course like he expected, he began teaching his own set of workshops unexpectedly.
“I went to a planning meeting and I got roped into giving some courses,” Winfield said. “This is how we’ve been ever since.”
Winfield said he thought leather workshops for the NCLL would be a good idea because leatherwork is becoming a dying art.
Third year NCLL member Sally Olsen said the workshops, while educational, have become somewhat of a social gathering.
“It’s a great way to meet people,” Olsen says. “It provides a venue for people to do things with other people…a lot of these things you might not do alone.”
The NCLL leather workshops are just one of the places Winfield showcases his leatherworking skills.
“I work with the leatherwork at the Boy Scouts camp,” Winfield said. “We try to get over there once a year and do a service project but we also try to get over and help whoever is teaching the leather craft.”
Winfield said if someone doesn’t finish their project in the three-hour allotted time limit, it can always be completed outside of the workshop.
“If we don’t get it done, the project is at least cut and the holes are punched and I give them either the thread or the lace to take it home and finish it,” Winfield said. “So it’s always usually done till they come back and then they show off what they did.”
Winfield said he hopes these workshops will draw seniors that may sit at home more and that may want to get out.
“We have a good time together,” Winfield said. “A lot of laughs. We could probably do this and make straw bridges and still have as much fun.”