Local craftsman telling stories through leather
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ST. ANTHONY — In a home built in 1914, lives an artist, craftsman, musician and firefighter.
His name is Ryder Evan Robison, a man who expresses himself best in canvas, wood and leather.
Robison grew up in a Navy family, and they moved frequently, but he has roots in St. Anthony, where he now lives.
Six years ago, Robison and his wife, Ainsley McWha, a writer and former model, moved into the homestead his great-great-grandparents built more than 100 years ago.
“I’ve got a lot of family roots here. I grew up visiting and coming to see my grandparents at this very house,” Robison told EastIdahoNews.com. “My wife and I actually moved here from New York City, and it was quite a big, welcome change from living in a big metropolis.”
He said the motivation to come to St. Anthony was a simpler lifestyle.
“We don’t have a TV in the house, but we have a record player and a computer, so we listen to records in the house,” he said.
Robison wanted to get back to his roots and explore his heritage. He even works for the South Fremont Fire Department, where his grandfather was chief in the 1970s.
One of Robison’s true motivations in life is his artistry, which spans multiple disciplines, from painting to music to leatherwork and wood burning. Robison’s artwork has caught the eye of top brands like Abercrombie & Fitch.
“I first met Ryder years ago in NYC; he was an artist, and a great guy with a warm personality,” Abercrombie & Fitch senior vice president of design Aaron Levine told Esquire in 2017. “One day I was flicking through Instagram and saw some of his artwork, so I reached back out to him and asked if he’d be interested in working on a creative project together.”
Robison worked with the company to create designs inspired by the wildlife and the outdoors of eastern Idaho for Abercrombie & Fitch’s unisex clothing line. The designs were printed onto the clothing and laser engraved into leather wallets and notebooks.
“I still do a lot of work for different clients doing paintings and illustrations. But everything is really based around my artwork,” Robison said.
He said he especially enjoys leatherwork.
“This has been a much funner way for me to make something that’s going to last a long time. I grew up with hand-me-down leather belts from my grandfather and things like that,” Robison said.
He said he grew up seeing the leatherwork his great-uncle would do, like belts and saddles.
“I always admired him, but it wasn’t until I got older that I realized that these things had been lasting 50-something years,” Robison said. “I think it was once I came to Idaho I was like, ‘Oh, I need this. I need something,’ so I was like, ‘I’m going to figure out how to make it,” he said.
So he did. He now makes leather belts, wallets, guitar straps and more. But making things out of leather is only part of what Robison does. Once whatever he is making is put together, that’s when his artistry really shines. Instead of painting or drawing, Robison burns his artwork into the leather.
“Not only is the craftsmanship of (his leatherwork) on a level of quality that I consider to be great, his artwork, in my opinion, is even better,” said one of Robison’s friends, fellow firefighter and leatherworker Cody Nielson.
Robison said much of what he burns into his leatherwork is derived from his own artwork and paintings, but one of his favorite things is doing custom leather burning for customers.
“Why I like doing this, other than I enjoy making these things, is that I get to talk to more people and find out how I can interpret what they want,” Robison said. “A lot of times these things will start as stories.”
The tagline for his business is “Handmade to tell your story.”
He said one of his favorite pieces is a guitar strap that he made for a friend’s husband. When he asked her what she wanted on it, she said her husband liked the snakes and the owls that Robison does.
“I asked if there was anything else, and she said, ‘He really likes popcorn,'” Robison said. “So I ended up making a barn owl fighting a snake over popcorn. So there were bits of popcorn all throughout the guitar strap, and the owl and the snake going at it. And it turned out really cool.”
He said everyone has their own story, and interpreting that story and retelling it through his work is why he loves doing what he does.