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Former biologist now operates her own leatherwork business

by Craig Mackie

Paige HarrisAt the Charlottetown Farmers Market, you may have noticed a display of bracelets, belts and handbags. Behind that display is a young women with intense hazel eyes and a warm smile. Her name is Paige Harris and she is Harris Leatherworks.

Paige was not always a leather crafter. After earning her biology degree from UPEI and a diploma from Holland College in the Wildlife Conservation Program, she worked for 7 years with the Island Nature Trust as a biologist and also with Friends of Covehead-Brackley Bay and Bedeque watershed management groups.

Paige had dabbled in different crafts and creative pursuits, but nothing felt quite like it was what she wanted to do. It was a gift from her mother that was life-changing. After her grandmother passed away, each of the granddaughters was given a handbag that had been handmade by their grandmother. Paige received many compliments on that handbag and she began thinking about working with leather.

“When people started commenting on my grandmother’s handbag, I began to think this was something I should try.” Her mom gave her all her grandmother’s leather working tools, some leftover leather and she started working with it. “I absolutely fell in love with it,” Paige says with a smile.

She describes herself as being self-taught as a leather craftsperson. She read some books and spoke with a few others who worked with leather.

Paige also credits her genes. Her grandmother of course, and her mother and father are both artistic.

She created some pieces of her own work and went to a few craft fairs where she received positive feedback and hasn’t looked back since.

Her designs are inspired by nature. When on long walks with her dog she will see something that she feels will look good on leather. She says, “It might be a bird sitting on a branch. I watch to see how it holds itself and then I’ll draw that image on paper and then transfer it to leather.”

“I keep challenging myself with more intricate designs. At the same time, I love simplicity. I don’t want my designs to be too cluttered. I think people are drawn to many of my truly simple designs.”

Her environmental sensibilities come through in her chosen craft. For instance she uses vegetable tanned leather and all her tools are hand tools to lessen her environmental footprint. Last year Paige’s husband and brother built her backyard studio so she no longer has to commute.

Her work is physically demanding. Because she uses hand tools, Paige is using all the muscles in her right arm as well as all the weight her slight frame can manage into the leather she’s working. An injury months ago has caused her to look at ways to vary her work by doing different projects. The variety reduces the stress on her arm. Paige also does some yoga to relax and stretch.

Paige smiles again, “It’s pretty satisfying taking something from raw material to finished product. And it’s really nice to see people wearing and using something I’ve made.”

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