Fascination with horses leads area woman to craft accolade at state fair

Donna Waters displays the leather sculpture that won her a reserve grand champion ribbon at the Indiana State Fair.
Donna Waters displays the leather sculpture that won her a reserve grand champion ribbon at the Indiana State Fair. Photo provided.

Originally published Aug. 29, 2016.

Donna Waters uses leather to create art.

And wallets and belts.

Even chaps — and one pair went on a mountain lion hunt in Arizona.

But it was horses that paved her path to leathercraft.

The rural Markle resident has miniature horses, and has always liked to visit the Indiana State Fair to gaze on the larger version of her small horses — the Percherons and the Clydesdales, animals that can weigh a ton or more.

“I’ve always mostly gone for the horse shows,” she says. “I grew up on westerns on TV, and a lot of my artwork is horses.”

During those visits to the state fair, the people demonstrating the art of working with leather caught her eye.

“I talked to them probably three or four years,” she says. “Then one day someone was having an auction here and had a bunch of leather tools.”

She bought the tools, a set made for a child, and entered the world of leathercraft.

That was four or five years ago.

Almost as soon as she picked up the craft, she started entering her works in the Indiana State Fair’s Indiana Arts open competition.

“It’s for anyone in Indiana, professionals and non-professionals,” she ex- plains. “Of course, I’m not a professional. I’ve only been doing leather for four or five years.”

But, she says, anyone who enters the competition gets free tickets to the state fair — and that was a draw.

This year, she hit the jackpot.

Her leather sculpture, depicting a scene that reflects Indiana’s frontier days, won reserve grand champion in the state fair’s leathercraft competition.

The sculpture — which includes a hatchet leaning up against a tree stump, a Daniel Boone-type cap atop the stump and a small animal nesting inside the stump — is crafted almost entirely in leather.

“The base is wood, but the only other thing in the whole piece that’s not leather is a toothpick I used in the arrow,” she says.

She says she has probably about 20 hours in the piece.

“It takes time, but it’s fun and I love it,” she says.

Waters says she’s always had an artistic bent.

“I always drew and painted,” she says. “Never professionally.”

She translated those skills into leathercraft.

“I make a lot of pictures,” she says. “It’s almost like drawing, but you do it with different tools, you shadow with different tools. And you can paint on leather.”

While Waters’ interest in leathercraft was piqued by the demonstrators at the state fair, she refined her skills by learning from members of the Hoosier Leather Guild. She’s now secretary of the guild, which meets monthly in Logansport.

Not only are her skills now good enough to win a top award at the Indiana State Fair, she also earned a blue ribbon last year from the International Federation of Leather Guilds exhibition.

“They’ll teach anybody who wants to learn,” she says.

She now also has her own shop, built by her husband. It’s where you’re likely to find her when she’s not working as a substitute in the Norwell School cafeteria.

“I’m in the shop most of the time,” she says.