Leather & Lore
Roland Christensen is a Plymouth resident by inclination, an ATK employee by necessity, a cowboy by heritage and a talented leather craftsman by desire. He has spent the past 30 years trying to restore or replicate the intricate leatherwork created by artisans of the past, while adding his own twist to a fading art.
By his own admission, Christensen has been around livestock all his life. Growing up in Bothwell, he was intimate with the western lifestyle and all the straps, stirrups and strings that go with it. As a youngster he said he loved to go into Bear River Saddlery, owned by George Christensen (no relation) and immerse himself in the leather-soaked environment. “As a kid, that was my favorite thing to do,” he said. “I just liked the smell.”
He got his love for detailing cowboy gear, however, after taking an arts and crafts class in junior high school. When he showed an interest, his parents gave him a leather tooling kit for Christmas. His grandmother gave more tools to him, tools a deceased uncle had once used.
Christensen had the tools, but lacked a teacher. Then in high school, a horsemanship class gave him both an instructor and the time to perfect his craft. He said during the winter months, the teacher would allow the students to work on leather projects, and he was soon making belts, purses and chaps for others upon their request.
Marriage took him to Plymouth and family responsibilities have kept him working at ATK for the past 33 years, but his hobby is still tied to his early love affair with leather. Bettering his craft has been the result of studying books and putting what he learned into practice – and a lot of self-instruction. He has also sought advice from those who know, and credits the late Don Hansen for helping him learn the tricks of the trade.
He has put that knowledge to good use. From headstalls to saddles, Christensen has repaired it, restored it, rebuilt it or fabricated it. But taking something old and resurrecting it into a useable piece again is high on his list of favorites.
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