Man recognized for leather art

A Highland, Kansas, man has made it his mission to keep a dying art form alive.

Bill Gomer, a master leather artisan, recently was recognized with an Academy of Western Artists Award.

“When they told me I was on the list, I thought they were joking,” Gomer says. “It’s such a high honor.”

He says it’s such a prestigious award he remembers being in tears when he was notified he was being considered.

Gomer says he remembers working in his dad’s shop at the age of 5. His father, a skilled saddlemaker, started him out punching holes in belts.

Gomer’s skills are recognized by many in the community, and he has become a mentor to some.

“Bill is considered a grandmaster, a title bestowed upon you by your peers,” says Josh Stevens, a local fellow leather craftsman. “There are only a handful of grandmasters in the world.”

Stevens says he became interested in leather crafting in 2012, while looking for someone to help customize his Harley motorcycle. He wanted a customized seat that resembled a western saddle.

Unsure of who to go to, he started researching online and was unsuccessful at locating someone who provided what he was looking for. So he figured he would just make what he wanted himself.

“I signed up for an entry-level class and it wasn’t long before I was hooked,” Stevens says. “It quickly became a hobby, a passion, a side job even. I really enjoyed creating things. I’d never been artistic before.”

The more he enjoyed it, he wanted to reach out to others practicing this craft. Stevens says he located a handful of people and was introduced to Gomer.

“To find somebody that’s in your backyard that essentially is one of the best in the world, it was amazing,” Stevens says.

He says he went to Gomer’s shop and started going through his artwork, looking at his tools and taking an even deeper interest in the art of leather carving. He’s been working with Gomer for a little over a year now.

“We started a leather guild with members from all over,” Stevens says. “Bill is instrumental in helping us with the group. We try to study with him as much as possible.”

Under the tutelage of Gomer, Stevens has made guitar straps, belts and knife sheaths. Leather carving frame artwork is another genre Gomer works in.

“It puts the focus on the actual carving and artwork side of things,” Stevens says. “Along the lines of something you could hang on the wall. That’s what I’m studying with Bill.”

Gomer is known by many as a renowned saddlemaker. He specializes in equine products, another popular genre of leather work. Since leather crafting isn’t practiced by many, Gomer does his part to help keep it alive.

“Bill is one of those guys that if you’re interested, he wants you to learn. He’s definitely willing to teach, no matter what stage you’re in.”

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