Artist Joseph Caban poses with some of the leather items he made at Rainbow Springs Art on West Pennsylvania Avenue in Dunnellon, Fla. on Friday, April 30, 2021. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.
Craftsman finds inspiration in nature
Nature themes often make their way onto the leather goods crafted by Joseph Caban of Dunnellon.
He sews horse head designs on bags and wallets inspired by his wife Gail, an equestrian who retrains former racehorses. He carves coasters featuring alligators and manatees that represent life in Dunnellon along the Withlacoochee and Rainbow Rivers.
Taking inspiration from the natural world is a benefit of the slower-paced existence the Connecticut native savors. After tiring of the daily commute to Manhattan, he and his wife were snowbirds summering in Kentucky for a few years before moving here permanently last year.
“Dunnellon is an incredible place to be an artist,” Caban said. “I’m able to take my bike out to decompress. You’re able to just go on a trail, to go down the river. It’s peaceful; it’s relaxing.”
The hand-stitched leather handbags, belts, wallets and phone cases Caban crafts using vegetable-tanned hides will last a lifetime, he explained.
The patina from the barks, leaves and branches of trees and plants used for tanning grows richer over time.
“Instead of wearing out, they will wear in and become more beautiful,” he said.
Although his day job is productivity consultant for a large contract management company, the passion for leatherworking that feeds his artistic side is a hobby that flourished during the pandemic.
“I started with leather towards the end of 2019,” he said. “I bought a basic leatherworking kit and just started watching YouTube. At the time, I didn’t realize I had something special going. And then I realized hey, I’ve got a talent I didn’t know I had.”
A longtime photographer, pandemic restrictions forced him to take a break from photography and allowed him more time to enjoy his new craft.
“I was like this is it,” he remembered. “I really enjoyed working with the leather.”
Creating wearable and functional art is satisfying, said Caban, who exhibits and sells his work at the Rainbow Springs Art cooperative gallery.
“That’s the thing I don’t get with photography,” he explained. “They hang it in their house, and I have no clue where it is. But with the leather, I’ve been to places where I’ve seen people with my stuff. I’ve been out to dinner, and I’ve seen someone with one of my bags. That’s an incredible feeling.”
He urges others to try the craft he loves.
“It starts with the pattern. Then you cut the leather. Then you dye it or get it pre-dyed. Then from there, you’re going to put the holes in it and stitch it up. Those are the basic steps of creating anything. It’s a craft anyone can do,” he said.