lleather and fur - The skin or hide taken from an animal, the hair (fur) or feathers removed, and dressed or tanned for its preservation and use. Prized for its flexibility and toughness, leather is a material commonly used in the production of such items as shoes, clothing, luggage, and saddles.

Fur is leather with a thick coat of hair still attached, much as it was when it was part of a living animal.


Leather, along with wood and other plant fibers formed the basis of much technology in earliest human history. Early cowhide leatheruses included clothing, containers, and tents.


Today, most leather is made from see thumbnail to rightcow hides. Lamb and deer snake skin leatherskins are softer and more expensive. Goatskin leather is known as morocco. Other skins have been highly prized at various times, and in various cultures. Among the many exotic sources of leather have been see thumbnail to leftsnakes, crocodiles, sting ray, and ostrich. Each of these leathers is characterized by its particular texture, thickness, flexibility, and durability.


Most leather is prepared by one of two industrial processes: it is either tanned (in which the skin or hide is treated with tannin or tannic acid) or chamoised pigskin leather(treated with oils and fats). A skin or hide that is not prepared in one of these ways either rots or dries out, becoming hard and inflexibile.

see thumbnail to rightThis leather was prepared from pigskin, which is used in America for footballs, because pigskin is notably strong, and its texture makes it easy to grasp.

Once a leather has been tanned, characteristic grains can be brought out by rubbing, or can be imitated by embossing. Finishes include glazing, a high glaze can be produced by rolling with glass cylinders, coloring with stains or dyes, enameling, japanning, or lacquering as for patent leather, and sueding by buffing with abrasive wheels to raise a nap, usually on the flesh side.

Rawhide is similar to parchment and is untanned.

books bound in leatherCordovan, or Spanish, leather, a soft, colored leather made at Córdoba during the Middle Ages and often richly modeled and gilded, is imitated for wall coverings, panels, and screens.

see thumbnail to leftLeather is much used in bookbinding.

Artificial leather, made since the mid-19th century, was originally a strong fabric coated with a rubber composition or with a synthetic substance such as pyroxylin. Since World War II, materials made from vinyl polymers (Naugahyde, Pleather, etc.) have far outstripped the earlier artificial leathers in commercial importance.

Leather is associated by some with sexual fetishism, or with motorcycles, or with some types of music -- heavy metal rock, for instance.


Clay is described as leather-hard when its dryness or moistness makes its flexibility comparable to leather.

(pr. leh'thr)


Examples of works in leather:





see thumbnail to leftRussia, Eastern Altai, Pazyryk Burial Mound 5, Chariot, 5th-4th centuries BCE, wood, leather, height 300 cm, diameter of wheels 150 cm, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia. See technology.




see thumbnail to rightThere is a large boss at the center of this "buckler," a leather shield of the style used in England in the 13th-15th century. The diameter of the entire buckler is about 14 inches. Much smaller bosses encircle the large central one. See arms & armor, English art, and omphalos.



see thumbnail to leftJapan, Armor (Yoroi), early 14th century, Late Kamakura period, lacquered iron and leather, silk, stenciled leather, copper-gilt, height 37 1/2 inches (95.3 cm), weight 38 lb. 3 oz. (17.3 kg), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. See arms and armor and Japanese art.



see thumbnail to rightGermany, Tournament Shield (Targe), c. 1450, wood, leather, linen, gesso, polychromy, silver, 22 x 16 inches (56 x 40.5 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. See heraldry.





see thumbnail to leftCaravaggio (Italian, 1573-1610), Medusa, oil on a circular convex leather shield, diameter 55.5 cm, Uffizi Gallery, Florence. See Baroque, Caravaggisti, mythology, and snake.





see thumbnail to leftItalian, Mask of Pulcinella, c. 1700, molded leather mask from a Commedia dell'arte theater troupe, The Theatre Museum, London. Pulcinella was traditionally a stupid servant, recognisable from his big beaky nose, hunchback and the wart on his forehead. As the 17th century progressed, the role of Pulcinella became more interesting and more diverse. By the time this mask was made, he was not necessarily a servant, but might be a peasant, a dentist, a physician, a painter or a soldier. The mask also changed. Whereas earlier versions had a mustache and beard hiding most of the actor's face, this is a half-mask. Pulcinella was the figure from whom Punch in Punch and Judy puppet shows was derived. see thumbnail to rightHere is a view of the back side of the mask.






see thumbnail to leftProbably Nakota, Yankton Sioux, Northern Plains, Shield, late nineteenth century, buffalo rawhide, native tanned leather, calico cloth, hawk feathers, pigment, diameter 20 1/16 inches (51.0 cm), Cincinnati Art Museum, OH. See American Indian art.



see thumbnail to rightA'ani/Nakoda (Gros Ventre/Assiniboine; Montana, Fort Belknap Indian Reservation), Pair of moccasins, c. 1880-1910, animal hide, beads, 4 1/8 x 4 7/16 x 11 7/8 inches (each), Minneapolis Institute of Arts. See American Indian art.



see thumbnail to leftNigeria, Lower Cross River, Ejagham peoples, Headdress, 19th-20th century, wood, leather, metal, bone, fiber, paint, height 10 31/32 inches (27.8 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. See African art and mask.




see thumbnail to rightDemocratic Republic of the Congo, Songye peoples, Power Figure, 19th-20th century, wood, copper, brass, iron, fiber, snakeskin, leather, fur, feathers, earth, resin, height 39 inches (99.1 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. See African art.




see thumbnail to leftLudwig Mies van der Rohe (German-American, 1886-1969), designer, Barcelona Chair, 1929, chrome-plated steel and black leather. See Bauhaus, design, and furniture.




see thumbnail to rightMarcel Breuer (German, 1902-1981), Wassily Chair, 1925, chrome-plated steel and black leather and furniture.




see thumbnail to leftJoseph Beuys (German, 1921-1986), Infiltration homogen für Konzertflügel (Homogeneous Infiltration for Piano), 1966, piano covered with felt and leather, 100 x 152 x 240 cm, Georges Pompidou Center, Paris. See Fluxus.




see thumbnail to rightPaolo Lomazzi, Donato D'Urbino and Jonathan De Pas, manufactured by Poltronova, Italy, Joe Sofa, 1968, polyurethane foam and leather, 33 1/2 x 65 1/4 x 41 3/4 inches (85.1 x 165.7 x 106 cm), Museum of Modern Art, NY. See furniture.




see thumbnail to leftJoseph Beuys, Die Haut (The Skin), 1984, felt and leather, 100 x 152 x 240 cm, Georges Pompidou Center, Paris.



see thumbnail to rightWayne Eagleboy (American, Onandaga, contemporary), We the People, 1971, acrylic paint and barbed wire on buffalo hide, Art Wagon Gallery. Contemporary Native American Wayne Eagleboy's version of the US flag is framed with fur, and bears portraits of two Indian men behind a screen of barbed wire.





see thumbnail to rightRobert Brunner, Daniel De Luliis, Jonathan Ive, Jay Meschter, for Apple Computer, Inc., 20th Anniversary Macintosh, 1997, limited edition, injected molded ABS plastic, die-cast zinc, leather, silicon, rubber, fabric, 17 1/4 x 16 1/2 x 13 inches (43.8 x 41.9 x 33.0 cm), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. See design.




see thumbnail to leftJose Antonio Rios (Peruvian, contemporary) and his family, "Colonial Garlands" Jewelry Box, 2003, tooled leather on plywood, velour lining, height 3.0 inches, diameter 6.3 inches, weight 0.4 lbs. A member of the Rios Family has tooled the leather with hammer and chisel, replicating foliate patterns of vines and garlands, reminiscent of Peru's colonial epoch. Jose Antonio Rios said, "For us, embossing leather is a family tradition. My father inherited it from his father, and handed it down to us." Also see vessel.



Also see applied arts, art conservation, basketry, fetish, ink, Kolinsky, paper, stump or stomp, and surface.





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