1 of 3
David Byland makes all his leather products by hand from his basement studio in Hoover, where he lives with his wife, Laura.
2 of 3
Photos by Sarah Cook.
Here, Byland uses a swivel knife to carve in a design to dampened leather.
3 of 3
Because the process of making leather products is lengthy, Byland said, each project takes on its own character. This notebook, at left, was one of those projects where “everything just went right,” he said. Far left: All Byland’s leather products are handcrafted from his basement studio in Hoover.
David Byland might spend several weeks crafting a handbag, notebook cover or set of spur straps. Everything is hand stitched or hand engraved in his basement studio where the unmistakable scent of leather permeates every corner.
After he finishes a project, Byland has no doubt his craft will endure a lifetime.
That’s the purpose of his art, Byland said, to create something that endures and is useful — but is also beautiful.
“I can have a vision come to life, and little by little I can see it unfold, and when I’m done, I have something I can say I’m proud of,” Byland said while sitting in his studio surrounded by scraps of bison leather that have been shipped to his Hoover home from ranches hundreds of miles away. “It’s sort of become the thing I enjoy doing most.”
For about 20 years, Byland has used leather to create custom pieces meant to last through the years. The hobby began when he realized he needed a custom sheath for an obscure-sized knife.
“I thought, well, I’ll make it myself,” Byland said. “And that’s how it all really began.”
Once he began studying the art of working with leather, the self-taught artist said he really started to take to the craft. Some time after that, Bison Art Studio was born.
An Unlikely Encounter
Before Byland lived in Alabama and long before Bison Art Studio began, the artist lived in Oklahoma where he taught broadcast journalism and editing at Oklahoma Baptist University.
“I’ve always liked the West,” Byland said, who counts Roy Rogers, Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone as some of his favorite frontiersmen.
While in Oklahoma, Byland worked as a cook for a group of cowboys for three summers. The ranchers’ simple, honest way of life struck a chord with Byland, who would frequently take his wife, Laura, and three daughters on camping trips so they could experience sunrises on horseback and admire the way mountain trails meander through the landscape.
One specific camping trip, however, especially inspired Byland, he said.
“Whenever we go camping, I tell the girls to stay behind me, and if we see any bison, to stop and go the other direction,” Byland said. “One time, we did come up on one laying down in a field of tall buffalo grass. The girls were right behind me, and suddenly the bison just stood up.”
After instructing his family to retreat to safety and slowly back up, so as to not alarm the 1,400-pound animal, Byland said he stole a moment to marvel at the majestic creature.
Much like the American West, Byland said, the bison embodies strength and beauty.
“That kind of experience sort of gives you a sense of what life had been like 100 or 200 years ago,” he said.
That memory, along with his fondness for the leather medium, launched Byland into a full-time leather artist later in life.
Making Meaningful Art
From a stenciled drawing to the final product, Byland plays a part in every step of the creative process when it comes to making anything from a leather wallet to a saddle (he was recently commissioned to make custom clutches for a group of bridesmaids).
Because professional leatherwork is somewhat of a lost art form, Byland said it isn’t hard to solicit interest in his craft.
“I don’t make anything that doesn’t serve a purpose,” he said. “Everything I make is something you can use.”
Mostly showing his work at local and regional art shows and marketplaces like Pepper Place Market, Byland’s art is both visually appealing and comes with a special meaning, the artist said.
He said he hopes his craft can become an enjoyable element in the homes of those who purchase his work.
“You can buy a saddle or a leather bag today, and it’s going to be mass produced. Every one would look exactly the same, and you would know exactly what you’re getting,” Byland said. “But, to me, that’s not where the value is. The value is in the handmade object, and this is my way of keeping this craft, this art form, alive and getting it in the hands of a new generation that otherwise wouldn’t have it.”
For more information on Bison Art Studio, visit bisonartstudio.com or Byland’s Etsy page, etsy.com/people/BisonArtStudios.