The following is taken from an article written in ‘Designer Leatherworker’ Issue No. 2, 1990, which was the magazine for the Association of Designer Leatherworkers (ADL).
Leather working is Arnold Smith’s second career: he spent 25 years working as a Cartographic Draughtsman, before ‘taking up the tools’ as a hobby while stationed among American Service-men. This shows very clearly in his work, he has a finely tuned eye for the smallest detail, without losing the balance of effects required to complete a successful picture.
When Arnold begins to make his original drawings, he is already thinking of which tools he might use to obtain the results he wants. Arnold works only with Natural Vegetable-Tanned Leathers and skews the use of dyes in his work. For Arnold, The ‘colour’ in a piece of decorative work comes from the range of textures and tones he can achieve through controlled cutting, stamping and bruising. An ability to assess the moisture-content and condition of the leather throughout the working process is one of the essential skills required for this kind of working. Arnold’s use of ‘colour’ can be clearly seen in a copy he made of William Blake’s painting: The Ancient of Days (illustrated).
Arnold often works to commission but also produces a fairly wide range of work, including: shoulder-bags and belts, small leather goods, wall-panels and presentation-pieces. In the past he has made and decorated chair-seats. When I visited, he was completing a circular table-top panel cover with designs and motifs drawn from Celtic-Art.
He is best known for his leather ‘pictures’ which is a handy term to describe various kinds of decorative work made by Arnold which can be contained within the frame. Some of these are very ‘realistic’, but I think that the Leather comes into its own when the ‘realism’ of the subject is abstracted or stylized as in the Heraldic-Motif and the Bristol coat of Arms (illustrated).
Arnold is also a competent teacher, he has taught Adult-Education classes on Leather working for 41 years in both the Somerset and Avon areas of the UK. His students, almost 1,000+ to date, have the benefits of being taught by a leatherworking-professional, producing work of a consistently high standard over many years.