Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Old fashion, new career

Designer left the cubicle farm behind to create RUSTIC LEATHER goods

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Stepping into Greg Morgan's workshop is like stepping back in time.

At one end is a well-used table, cut from a thick slab of deeply scarred wood. Among scraps of leather sit two sewing machines: one is a powder-blue Kenmore antique, the other is new, but looks even older.

Various tools hang from the walls, alongside a bright red telephone with a retro ringtone. Mounted high above it all is a pair of antlers. On the shelves are a vintage radio and three empty bottles of Jack Daniel's whisky.

The space is an anachronism from the Old West, one that seems even more unlikely when you find out Morgan is no gruff, callused cowboy, but a slight 31-year-old former librarian.

"The big 30th birthday made me reassess my direction in life," explains Morgan. "I kind of thought I just needed a change."

For a decade, Morgan has been crafting little things, such as leather wallets and key chains, for himself and his friends. He recently quit his job to devote his efforts more seriously to his hobby.

Now he specializes in belts and bags, sold primarily online at ryaton.com. The pieces, often custom-made, usually take between a day and a week to craft and are priced at upwards of $75 each.

"I don't know how long it will go for," Morgan says of his new career.

"I'm sort of at the point now where some months, I can pay my bills with the work I do, and some months I'm still drawing on my savings. It can go either way. But definitely, it's a nice change from the old workaday life."

Morgan taught himself to work with leather mostly through trial and error, although lately he's been experimenting with shoes, and has aligned himself with a veteran at an Edmonton shoe repair shop down the street.

For Morgan, who enjoys working with his hands, leather is a creative outlet.

"One of my frustrations with the traditional desk job was that I didn't have sort of a physical thing at the end of the day."

The simple satchels Morgan makes for bicycles are his most popular item, but it's his belts that appear to be the showpieces. One has been made to mimic birch bark, while others feature intricate designs and detailed depictions of insects and birds.

"My main sort of method is to make things very high quality that should last with normal use longer than their owner, and things that are unique. Things that stand out, if not for flashiness, then for care in their construction."

In some ways, his work is a reflection of rustic sensibilities.

"Sometimes, I think I want to move to the woods and be a woodsman, and move to the farm and be a farmer."

Then, he asks, "Are you familiar at all with The Wind in the Willows?" The classic children's book depicts the lives of a rat, a mole, a badger and a toad.

"The descriptions of the homes that they live in is so incredibly romanticized in a pastoral sort of way -- great hearths underground and wood beams and dried herbs and all sorts of wonderful things.

"Ever since I was a kid and read that, I've always been taken by that sort of idea."

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2013 D13

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