Starting with sculpture at Cranbrook Kingswood High School to painting and welding at the University of Michigan, Sarah Jane Post has always looked for new mediums to incorporate into her artwork. Today, Post works with acclaimed leather artisan Jutta Neumann in New York City's East Village.
"Originally, I had done some bronze sculpting, and that's a step-by-step process that starts with a small sketch and builds on itself," Post said. "At each step, there's an opportunity for it to go wrong. Leather is very similar. You're starting with a hide that is a flat piece of leather. The steps and processes in between looks nothing like it's going to end up, which I find really fascinating."
Looking to start a career in the art world after college, Post moved to the East Village after graduating. But for a Michigan native, the urban pavement of New York can be a bit much.
"I was so used to being around nature, and New York was a little shock to me," Post said. "But the East Village is scattered with these community gardens, so I volunteered a couple of Sundays there to get access."
By volunteering to help maintain a garden, Post was able to get use privileges to do some painting in a natural setting. It wasn't long before Neumann, who owns the garden, took notice.
"I met her and she told me about an apprenticeship program she was starting," she said. "I was like, 'sign me up.'"
Neumann, a native of Germany, moved from Paris to New York in the 1980s, where she honed her leather working skills with another artisan. In 1994, she opened her own storefront in the East Village, where her signature designs have gained popularity among designers and the general public.
"I like working with my hands, and leather is a very sculptural thing the way we produce it. It came very easy to me," Post said. "The thing I learned most from Jutta was the attention to detail needed. People expect quality from their leather products. It has to be very exact and done very well."
Now, about two years after her start working for Neumann, Post is crafting some of her mentor's designs for customers and bringing new life to older products brought in for repairs.
"A man came in with sandals that he was wearing that day that he had bought here and brought in for repairs," she said. "I was working on those, and they were as old as me, and they were in great condition."
Post has also created designs of her own, following Neumann's blend of fashion and functionality. Recently, Post made a special pair of sandals for her cousin, who can only wear sandals due to a medical condition.
"Some people will ask for different straps on products, and she will know instantly if it will work. I love the functionality," she said. "My cousin's sandals were my favorite project to do. I knew how badly he needed them."
Outside of the store, Post is continuing her studies at Pratt Institute. She has also continued to develop her own artwork, exploring painting, sculpture and 3-D technical aspects of artwork, incorporating metal into all her projects. Meanwhile, her work at the store has given her a crash course in both leatherworking and business.
"We sell hundreds of sandals a week in the Japanese market, where they really found a niche," she said. "It's very cool to see it go beyond the walls you live in."
Photo: Kevin Young