Magazine article Sunset

Rawhide Rides Again

Magazine article Sunset

Rawhide Rides Again

Article excerpt

Contemporary artisans are rediscovering this tough, supple material

YOU CAN'T GET MUCH more Western than rawhide, which is usually untanned cattle- or sheepskin. Once used for everything from drums and drinking vessels to lariats and lampshades, rawhide is a signature feature of the region's Native American, ranching, and cowboy cultures.

Rawhide has always been prized for its versatility and strength. In the words of Whitefish, Montana, furniture craftsman David Speer, rawhide is "tough enough to make the head of a hammer, the handle of a knife, or the hinge of a door, yet translucent enough to make a window or a lamp." And now rawhide is riding the comeback trail in furnishings and decorative art.

ADAPTING TRADITIONS

Though inspired by traditional instruments and tools, many contemporary rawhide objects perform new and different functions. Vividly painted hand-held drums from Taos, New Mexico, for example, make distinctive wall decorations. Bigger, rough-hewn wood and rawhide drums make rugged end tables. New, painted rawhide buckets, though recalling those originally used for water storage by the Blackfeet tribe from Montana, are designed as decorative wastebaskets.

Woven rawhide strips make a strong, resilient, and light-weight seating material. Some artisans, like Virginia and J. Mike Patrick of Cody, Wyoming, are using rawhide and peeled pine to create chairs and love seats with a rustic but airy look.

However, the most common current use of rawhide is in lampshades, which cast a beautiful amber or parchment-colored glow. …

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