Introducing the first talent of Man Maker Mondays, Ben Fife of Westward Leather Co. I had the pleasure of coming across Ben's work after a conversation regarding Tinariwen several months back. In my experience, I've come to develop some of my inspiring kinships through the power of music so I decided to step into the portal of his company. Ben dwells in Spokane, Washington where he occupies his time in the art of leather working. His work is sharp and sleek with a reminiscent spirit of the wild western days. I can smell the scent of leather from here and the wind-driven tales of his life from his images.
I created the questionairre for the Man Makers series and offered it to Ben to be the initiator and brave soul to start the series off. I've honored he did. There is such a warmth, a timelessness to his soul and a kindness that would make it easy to befriend the fellow in real life. Below, are his thoughtful answers and approach to the art he makes with his hands.
GHOST DANCER MAN MAKERS INTERVIEW:
What is your brand/name?
Westward Leather Co.
What is your heritage?
I was born in Washington State. My mother is from Spokane born and raised, and my Father is from a small town in Louisiana. My last name is Scottish, but I’m pretty mixed up in the blood like so many others in this country. A mutt, or maybe a chameleon…I prefer a chameleon. I guess what matters is I come from humble upbringing of hardworking, creative people, with very good hearts. I am fortunate in that way.
What are 3 reference points of inspiration for your work?
I draw inspiration from so much really, this is a tough answer to pin down. But I can say for sure that history is a large reference point. I am always looking back, in large part at cultures that were innovative with very little, like the American Indian. I am lost in admiration of the American Indian culture throughout history. Not just the creativity and ingenuity of their craft, but also the perspective they held/hold toward the natural world, and their role within it. Which brings me to my next reference point: Nature. Nature is the ultimate creation, and I can’t help but always be refreshed and inspired by it. It is always waiting patiently for us to come, it overtakes me in the most magnificent way, and reminds me of who I am, and who I want to be. Finally, I am inspired by the hope that this fast paced world, that seems to be barreling forward like a locomotive always gaining speed, will take a moment to slow down, look at our lands, look at our hands, and decide to embrace things in a more tactile and intentional way. That’s why the Buffalo is my logo, because in our folly, we almost hunted that powerful animal to extinction, but stopped just in time to re-evaluate our misdoings, and work to restore life to something that we almost lost forever. That’s how I feel about the importance of craftsmanship in our world right now. Of many things.
What are 3 skills you've learned in representing yourself as an artist?
I’m probably more in the state of learning, than “ earned", but I’d say I’m working on self representation and selling my product. It’s very easy to be excited about what I make when I am in my shop, but for some reason quite difficult for me to express the enthusiasm and faith I have in my product, to strangers. This is mostly specific to the monetary side of things I might add, and I’m learning how to be more confident in that approach, because I work hard to make the best item I can, with the best materials…and I know they’re worth it! I’m also learning that I need to be careful not to try and please everyone. Some invitations are not worth the hassle, and it is good to know when to say, NO. And finally, I’ve learned that I have to remember to have fun! Making the same things all the time can become daunting, tedious, perhaps lose the luster of when we first started, so it’s good to take a break and create something totally new, or off the wall sometimes. Different materials, no intention of selling, whatever it takes for me to just challenge myself, but also be lose and untethered.
What are 3 skills you believe are a necessity to be an independent artist/designer?
Hmm, independent or successful? Ha! Artists and designers will know what I mean by that. From my experience, faith in yourself first and foremost. Take on a big job once in awhile, bigger than you think you might be able to handle, but think you could still pull off. Succeed or fall short, that will teach you all the skills you’ll need to be an independent artist/designer. And as hard as it is for some of us, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Not only will it help you get things done, but in the end, sharing in all this is what it’s all about.
What moved you to make with your hands?
Whatever has moved me to breath. And watching my Father.
If you could travel anywhere today, where would you travel and why?
I think right now, I’d go somewhere warm, like Oaxaca or Peru. I don’t necessarily mean warm in climate, but warm in the people…warm within the culture. I’d love to spend more time with people that still have a visible connection to their indigenous roots. And the craftsmanship coming out of those kinds of territories is just insane, and deserves more recognition.
Can you narrow down your 3 favorite songs at the moment?
I live in music, so this is a tough one. I’d say for a groove, Inner City Blues by Marvin Gaye. On a sunny day drive, spin Ku Mi Da Hankan by The Elcados, and wait for the breakdown. And finally, pop on your favorite headphones, and let this track take you into a realm of revelation; Maggot Brain by the Funkadelic. That last one touched my soul in a crazy way the first time…maybe every time. Bonus track for the fade out…Preview Side Too - Bootsy Collins.
What advice would you offer your fellow female makers?
Fellow female makers out there, believe in what you do, love what you make, always work to improve your craft, and go after your dream. I’d say the same to my fellow male makers too I guess. Oh, and remember to take a vacation and respite!
What advice would your 65 year old self to you today?
Shit, I hope something really wise. But he’ll probably just say something sarcastic, before going off on some existential rant. Ha!
What change would you most like to see in the world?
For the fear that is used to lead people to hate, to turn into a humble pursuit of knowledge that would lead to love.
Any additional thoughts on the importance of artisanal/handmade goods in a fast pace Western World?
Sure, pass it on. This world appears to be on the verge of losing perspective on many things. I am excited to see what seems like a renaissance of artisanal handmade perspective. That brings me hope, and I’m honored to play a part in it in any way I can. But whatever we can do to get the youth excited about the creative process, arts and culture, pride in ones work, etc…that’s gonna make the difference. I know I need to be better about this. Each one teach one!
Well, I was dearly delighted after reading Ben's thoughts. I've been able to get a good sense of the individuals I'm interviewing through their answers. Ben's products are of high quality and would pair very well with a good beaver hat, a bottle of Woodford Reserve, a campfire and an adventure into the quiet yonder with coyotes in the background. And ladies, that Watanya Cicilla bag is an absolute must. Take a peak on his site below.
Thank you Westward Leather Co for sharing inspiration with us here via the Ghost Dancer platform. I'm grateful to be apart of this handmade revolution with you and bring more thought back into wearable art, commodity and our choices on how to support artisans. We are all in this together.