As a child I remember sitting next to my grandfather’s favorite chair while he carefully hand stitched leather wallets and belts, among other things. Eugene Adalais Brown was his name, Poppy as I knew him, had a long career as a leather inspector for Johnston & Murphy back when that name was a symbol of leather craftsmanship. He loved leather and had a gift to create amazing leather pieces that he took great joy in providing to those who were lucky enough to know him and his artisan skills.
Being his only grandson I was able to monopolize his time, asking incesante questions about leather and his craft. My special requests of a custom leather piece were always granted. And when he passed away his love for leather lived on in me.
While living in San Marcos de Colon, Honduras in the early 2000’s, I was fortunate to meet another man who loved leather. Ramon “Ernesto ” Izaguirre. Ernesto, like my grandfather not only loved leather, he was also a skilled artisan who created some amazing customs leather pieces. It wasn’t long before we became close friends.
Ernesto, like my grandfather, had never graduated from school. Poverty had forced both of them to support their families from an early age. But their education levels, or lack there of, didn’t prevent them from being quite successful in their own right. So in 2008 when I pitched the idea to Ernesto of us working together to share our common love for leather with other young people from a similar economic background, he was all in, confessing to me that, “I always dreamed of being a teacher!”
By 2010 a new vocational school open and enrollment was full, with a waiting list. This school was focused on teaching trades to young men and women who would not otherwise have an opportunity to study. Today this school continues to equip young artisans, not only with skills, but with a bright future. You can learn more about it on our sister organization’s website missionlazarus.org Today Ernesto continues to share his love for leather his amazing skills and his heart for teaching with a select group of young men and women who’ll become skilled artisans just like him.