A native Texan, Leland Hensley developed a passion for the art of rawhide braiding while attending Sul Ross State University in Alpine. After graduation in 1985, he took a job as a ranch manager but continued to polish his braiding skills. He found that after a hard day on the ranch, working on his braiding was a way to relax and unwind. To this day Leland sees his braiding, not as a job that needs to be done, but an enjoyable activity that he looks forward to at the end of each day. He is constantly challenging himself to improve and grow. He's made it a personal goal with each finished piece to surpass what he's done in the past. As a result, Leland Hensley's work has developed a high reputation amongst collectors and working cowboys alike for unique design, beauty, and rugged functionality. A member of the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association, Leland's work has also been exhibited in Sun Valley, Idaho, "A Gathering of Gear", Elko, Nevada, and "The Trappings of Texas", a show hosted by the Museum of the Big Bend, where Leland has been the guest curator of gear since 2002.
"I find rawhide to be a fascinating material to work with, it starts out as a rough, crude, animal hide, but once it's braided, it becomes a thing of both extreme strength and beauty." Leland Hensley carefully selects, stretches, and prepares all of his own rawhide skins. "There's a tremendous amount of work that goes into preparing the hide long before the first strings are cut for braiding. Most folks just see the finished product and have no idea the amount of effort it takes just to get to the point where one can begin to braid." The raw skin, once removed from the animal, must be cleaned and the hair removed, then the hide is stretched and dried over a period of days. Once dried, the first large strips can begin to be cut from the hide. Gradually, ever smaller strips are cut by hand and carefully beveled until they form a perfect string consistent in both thickness and width. Some of the strings Leland braids with are only a 32nd of an inch wide. It may take hundreds of these tiny hand cut strings to create a finished piece of braided rawhide gear. Leland uses cowhide for the vast majority of his braiding often incorporating colored strings but other more exotic materials such as Kangaroo have made their way into his work. "In a world that always wants things faster; I must hold close to the fundamentals of braiding rawhide correctly and not compromise."
"I was working in my shop one day when a customer walked in and showed me a hand made knife with a braided rawhide handle. It was like nothing I'd ever seen; I knew then I had to find out where it came from and how it was made." Leland's quest to discover the origins of the mysterious knife led him on a journey to Argentina and the beginning of another chapter in the development of his braiding skill. At La Rural, the national fair of Argentina, the finest braiders from around the country gather to show and sell their wares. "I was blown away by the quality of the braiding in Argentina. It's a whole other world, with a whole other set of skills and traditions but still so many similarities; we have a lot in common." Leland shared ideas and made new friends. For the 2004 Traditional Cowboy Arts Association seminar series Leland introduced master rawhide braider Armando De Ferrari of Argentina and Pablo Lozano and opened up a whole new world of the rawhide art form to an appreciative audience. Drawing on international influences is one of the characteristics of Leland Hensley's style that sets his work apart. In addition to South America, Leland draws from the traditional styles of Spain, old Mexico and the unique motifs that have arisen from the blending of styles along the Texas/Mexico border. He often uses this to create unusual pieces that cross over the boundaries of hard and fast traditions. A set of split reins for instance, common in Texas, but braided in rawhide and mounted with silver are transformed into a treasured museum quality piece of Vaquero gear.
Leland offers private one on one braiding classes to beginners as well as intermediate braiders. These classes can vary in length depending on the student and what they hope to achieve. A week long class is recommended to beginning braiders. This covers hide preparation, cutting strings and fundamental braids and knots. A project will be chosen in order to practice these skills. Leland offers a place to stay while attending, in order to stave off some of the expense but there is also lodging close enough if desired. Contact Leland by e-mail to discuss your personal class.
Note: No workshops through this summer but I will start back up in August so schedule soon!
If you have the patience to braid rawhide, and you want to learn more about it? Leland can save you so much time in your pursuits and teach you how to do things the correct way.
Donnie Chulufas, Archie. MO.
Use the information below to get in touch with Leland, or use the contact form to send Leland an email.
(254) 717-7335 CST