W

ithin each day, we do a lot of things, say a lot of things, without knowing what impact one particular action will make on another. 

Artist Jeremiah Colladay found that a simple gift from a friend resulted in a complete career change, as well as the building of a business.

“Most of my childhood was spent playing the drums and guitar, filling my sketchbooks with pencil and ink drawings, and innovating new products from objects I found around the house,” says the Spokane craftsman, who specializes in creating Western leathercrafts with a decidedly Pacific Northwest style.

“In my early 20s, I transferred my drawing skills to the world of tattooing, but a few years later discovered my true artistic passion when a friend gave me a sewing awl and a bag of old leather scraps.”

Colladay tracked down a custom saddle maker, with whom he embarked upon a three-year apprenticeship, acquiring skills in what is today considered a dying art. 

He learned how to create patterns that transferred well to the medium, how to properly sew leather and how to carve, tool and dye it in such a way that the artwork emerged, strong and integrated. 

Upon completing his apprenticeship, Colladay collaborated with his writer and photographer wife, Erin Colladay, to establish Colladay Leather. He creates the products; she manages the business. They both design.

Working out of a studio that takes up most of the daylight basement in their rural north Spokane home, the couple fashions hand-carved, hand-beveled, hand-shaded and hand-dyed products from leather, with no two exactly alike. 

In addition to making wallets and journal covers, items that many people associate with leather, Colladay Leather designs and crafts earrings, zipper pulls, and camera and guitar straps from leather tanned exclusively in the U.S., a policy the couple created in order to maintain high standards of quality, as well as assurance the material has been produced under sustainable conditions.

“Our passion is for artistry and the creative process, in all its forms,” Erin says.

“We believe creativity has been written into the soul of every person, and our desire is to nurture that through our work. Through every product we produce, our goal is that our work will inspire others in their own creative journey, in whatever form that may take.”

There’s something about the artisan process, she muses, that evokes passion and wonder, which thereby translate into a quest for excellence in all arenas of life.

“We have largely moved away from this in our society, but Colladay Leather strives to see us return.”

The couple develops and expands its product line through close communication with customers, as well as a streak of practicality. For example, Jeremiah developed the popular three- and seven-pocket tool rolls to address the frustration he experienced while pawing through a pencil pouch to find the tools he needed. 

The tool rolls streamlined and organized pens, pencils and other small tools that otherwise jumbled together.

Inspiration for artwork on the products arises from the Inland Northwest itself, its landscapes, flora and fauna, as well as Jeremiah’s background in tattooing. What results, Jeremiah says, is a unique piece of art, one that is also functional. It can be worn and used daily.

“When you hold our products, you are asked to slow down and take heed of quality and beauty,” he explains.

“An encounter with our work inspires you to pursue creativity and excellence in your own work, be it in the boardroom, the emergency room, the kitchen or the studio.

“It’s a lot to ask of a leather accessory, but we believe it is an attainable aspiration.”

As beautiful as leather is, it is a difficult medium in which to work because of its unforgiving nature. Any cuts, indentations or nicks made to it are permanent, and once the dyeing process begins, things get especially tricky.

“One small slip of the brush, and you can undo hours of intensive work,” Jeremiah says.

But that’s all part of crafting, and craftsmanship — the careful attention to detail, as well as the time it takes to create a functional item of beauty.

“Crafted to Inspire is our guiding principal,” Jeremiah says.

“It describes what we do and why we do it.”

Carolyn Henderson is a freelance writer who co-owns Steve Henderson Fine Art and SteveHendersonCollections.com with her husband, Steve. She welcomes correspondence at carolyn@stevehendersonfineart.com.