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herman-oak-tour-01I was fortunate to be invited to join all the TCAA saddle makers & Don Reeves to tour the Hermann Oak Leather Tannery. On March 29/14 I flew from Calgary, Alberta to St Louis, MO.  Shep Hermann picked up Chuck Stormes, Perdro Perdini and myself and took us to our hotel in St. Louis, the historic Missouri Athletic Club.

March 30 was the first of our two day tour of Hermann Oak.  We were all picked up from the hotel by Hermann Oak staff and taken to the tannery. After introductions we sat down in the main office with Shep Hermann and some key Hermann Oak employee’s.  Over the next couple hours Shep explained the plans he had for us in regards to the tannery tour, the company history, and their business philosophy.

herman-oak-tour-02After our discussions in the office the group of saddle makers along with Shep and some of the department heads from Hermann Oak we started out tour of the tannery. The tour was in chronological order from when the cowhide arrives to the finished leather.  According to the staff this tour was by far the most in-depth Hermann Oak has ever done, they explained each and every process of tanning leather from the hides arriving salted, to the cleaning and un-hairing process,  then the hides are taken to the rocker room where they start the process of tanning the leather using some machinery and tanning vats that are over 130 years old, this process can take 2-6 weeks. Then the leather goes into large wood drums to put back into the leather fat liquors and oils. This process takes a couple days, the leather is then put thru a slicker machine and then taken upstairs to the drying room where it is hung and dried.

After we finished the tour of the tanning process we had a very detailed question and answer period with Shep Hermann, the department heads and the chemists going over all the different processes of tanning leather. These discussions were very informational for us saddle makers and for the Herman Oak staff. This concluded day 1 of our tannery tour.

The next morning we started with another quick question and answer period, we then went upstairs to complete the tour of the tannery.

herman-oak-tour-03We spent a large amount of time going the grading process, learning all the different defects in leather and what the effects of these are.  Along with the grading department heads we went over each and every defect, how the leather is selected and graded etc. Shep had all of us saddle makers to make a list of our top 5 most important leather defects. This discussion was again very educational for us makers and the Hermann Oak staff.

herman-oak-tour-04Next we met Earl and Ron whom are the two gentlemen who grade the leather.

We all had many questions for Earl & Ron in regards to how leather is graded, then the staff brought to us many different sides of leather so we could see the different defects and grades of leather, as a group we had very details discussions on each side of leather we looked at.

herman-oak-tour-05After our discussion on grading leather we finished the tour of the tannery, seeing all the other processes involved,  splitting the leathers, dying and hot stuffing with wax and much, much more.

herman-oak-tour-06We then spent another few hours in the office, with another very in-depth discussion with Shep Hermann & staff with any and all questions we had about the tanning process or leather in general.

Something Cary Schwarz said after the tour which I had to agree with 100% “this was a life changing event, I’ll never look at Hermann Oak leather in the same way after visiting their tannery.”

I was simply amazed at the amount of knowledge that I gained about leather and the tanning process. This was yet another awesome experience, many thanks to the TCAA and the fellowship program.

Steve Mason

Throughout 2013, the TCAA had ongoing talks with Mr. Shep Hermann of Hermann Oak Leather regarding maintenance of saddles and leather products. As a result of these exchanges, Mr. Hermann became interested in the TCAA and its goals. While attending Cowboy Crossings last October at the National Cowboy Museum, he invited the TCAA saddle makers to St.Louis for a tour and talks with key tannery workers.

Those invited included Rick Bean, Pedro Pedrini, Cary Schwarz, Chuck Stormes, John Willemsma, Steve Mason (Tcaa Fellowship 2014) and Don Reeves, National Cowboy Museum Curator.

On March 31st and April 1st, 2014 we met at the Hermann Oak Tannery for a complete tour, including a series of lively, informative discussions centered on the details of tanning and using traditional vegetable tanned leathers.

 I believe leather to be the first chemically-produced product in the history of mankind, because it can be produced by accident and is one of the most useful articles throughout history. – Shep Hermann

This may well represent the first time discussions at that level have taken place between experienced saddle makers and a leading tanner of saddle skirting.

The TCAA extends its sincere thanks to Shep Hermann and the entire staff of Hermann Oak Leather for organizing this historic meeting.

Please enjoy the accompanying video which provides a window into the operation of one of America’s most celebrated tanneries.

For further information please visit their website

2014 TCAA Workshops

The 2014 workshops, co-hosted by the TCAA and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and presented by TCAA instructors, will focus on saddle making with particular attention to the areas that are often the most problematic to saddlers.

dev cult tcaa12 cs_0117 February 11-14, 2014, “Details of Saddlemaking” will be held in the Museum’s Nona Jean Hulsey Rumsey Art Education Center. John Willemsma will concentrate on several common problem areas including fitting a saddle seat, different styles of cantles and cantle bindings, riggings, horns and covering both Wade-style forks and also one requiring a welt or seam.

This will involve intermediate to advanced instruction with many practical solutions. The program is styled for a class of 15 participants.

IMG_4382PH BWThe fall 2014 workshop, October 7-10, is “Saddle Tree, Selection and Fit” led by Chuck Stormes will be of interest to both saddle makers and serious horsemen. It is intended to demystify the terminology, geometry and anatomy involved in selecting a tree that is suitable for the horses, rider and specific use intended. It is NOT a course in how to make a saddle tree but will give insight into the variables and adjustments that are possible on the part of the tree maker.

The presentation can accommodate an enrollment of at least 24 participants. Due to limited enrollment, these classes fill quickly so call early to hold a spot in the workshop. Advance reservations are required for both workshops. For further information and enrollment call (405)478-2250, Ext. 277.

Hermann-Oak-LogoThe TCAA is proud to welcome Hermann Oak Leather as a sponsor and supporter of its ongoing programs. Hermann Oak Leather has been tanning quality leathers in St. Louis, Missouri for the world’s leading saddlemakers since 1881 and continues to produce the leather that makes the TCAA level of craftsmanship possible. Read more

The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is pleased to announce the acquisition of an important saddle made in 2009 by Chuck Stormes with saddle silver by John Ennis. Stormes, of Millarville, Canada, is a founding member of the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association and is celebrating his 50th year as a saddlemaker – a remarkable achievement. The Collections Committee of the Museum’s Board of Directors approved this purchase with the express purpose of exhibiting the saddle in the reinstallation of the Museum’s fine art gallery in April of 2013. This Mother Hubbard saddle, with its flowing floral stamping and exquisitely engraved silver conchas, will be presented as functional art shown side-by-side with the works of Howard Terpning, Alan Houser and other celebrated contemporary Western artists. This acquisition is also indicative of the desire by the Board of Directors to actively pursue such important expressions of contemporary Western functional art.