Today we’d like to introduce you to Christopher Lee.
Hi Christopher, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start, maybe you can share some of your backstories with our readers?
In late 2016, I was struck head-on by a wrong-way driver while driving my motorcycle on 141. The 70mph impact shattered much of my body and killed my friend next to me, Tom “Tommy-gun” Trostel. Years earlier, I had lost my left hip to a lifestyle of excess, and I was intimately aware of the possibility of depression precipitated by days in a bed. Leather work came from a friend and brother who wanted some of my chap leather to make a knife sheath for me. When I asked, “what do you know of leather work?” He replied, “nothing, I’m gonna Youtube it.” Curious, I also watched a few videos and realized the leathercraft mechanics worked well with my limited ability. Sandra, my wife, took me to the local Tandy leather, and from there, a hobby was born. Not long after, another friend I met because of the accident brought me over leather tools, a massive book on leatherworking, and boxes of leather. From there, it all snowballed- people seemed to rally behind me and share resources, either from family members who worked leather or connected me to other leatherworkers. Today, much of, if not all, that I do is custom work for clients. I do some repair work, but not as much as I did in the beginning. Currently, because of school, I am working on my MDiv at Covenant Theological Seminary- I am not taking on a lot of new clients.
Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has not been a smooth road, yet it has not been all struggles either. One of the biggest hurdles has been structure. Before my accident, I was a high-level chef for over 30 years, a very structured and disciplined career field. At 32, I was diagnosed with ADHD. It was the timing, structure, and discipline of the kitchen which, in a lot of ways, made life more manageable. Realistically, it shielded me from many things I am only starting to figure out. Leaving behind the disciplined life of being a chef and entering into the unfamiliar timing of leatherwork has sometimes created an overwhelming feeling of anxiety. As a chef, I seldom communicated my feelings with my wife, Sandra. I often figured it out on my own and either planned for the hiccups along the way or dealt with them at the moment. In the culinary world, everything operates on a clock which I have been aware of since I was much younger. Leatherwork also involves a clock, which I sometimes have challenges reading. Salt and Light has created a space for me to be more vulnerable with Sandra because I have to express myself and the challenges of not fully being engaged with time.
More importantly, because of the multiple steps of leather craft, I have had to slow down in some aspects and speed up in others. Like cooking at the chef level, there is something very visceral about leatherwork. In either capacity, my goal has always been to responsibly and respectfully bring the ideas in my head into reality through the medium I am using to express myself. The process of taking a pattern and turning it into a finished product, like cooking, is an act of care. While not wanting to wax philosophical, you have to remember something gave its life either to be consumed or shaped.
Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
As someone still learning about leather goods and the creation process, I realize you cannot know and do everything. With that said, my focus has been on vegetable-tanned (veg-tanned, oak) leather products which are often sturdier and utilitarian. I love hand-tooling, which begins with a pattern drawn on tracing paper, then laid on top of a “cased” piece of leather (pre-wetted). The pattern is “traced” with a stylus, cut with a swivel knife, and tooled with a maul and an assortment of specially shaped dies. The result is a 3-d pattern on the surface of the leather. The next step in the process is dying, often a single color stained over the leather once it has dried completely and been oiled to protect it from the elements. I have learned in my research a method of dying that elevates the process into a type of painting that further accentuates the 3-d look and is unique to each piece I make. I am most proud of the combination of hand-tooling, and the dying process, as each piece I make is indeed one of a kind.
What makes you happy?
In all, my life outside of the kitchen. I do not say this out of spite or regret; I loved my years behind the stove. Since the accident, it could be said the accident took everything away, and in some respects, it did. But from that tragic moment, so many doors have opened. I learned a hobby that has taken me to start a small business. I have also begun working on a Master’s in Divinity to share my faith with others and, more importantly, my hope. Before the shift, my sole priority at times was the success of my catering business. All else was second. including my beautiful wife, Sandra. Now, the focus is on relationships, beginning with Christ Jesus, then Sandra, my friends and family, and then those I engage with through Salt and Light Leather. Joy or happiness then no longer resides with what I have gained through a particular business transaction or a check at the end of the week but through conversations and getting to know about the lives of others.
- 35 an hour for most work
- All work is discussed and agreed upon. I ask for 1/2 up front for supplies and to hold your place in the queue and the other 1/2 on completion
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