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Collection of Leather Art

The Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design (ETDM) collection of leather art includes approximately 1700 works by more than 90 professional artists and workshops. Estonian leatherwork is very versatile: the artists have created book bindings, albums, chests, covers for decorated citation of honour, decorative forms, leather tapestry and elements of interior design. Of the techniques have frequented also leather modelling, leather cut, batik, leather braiding, application and mixed technique beside the traditional stereotype technique, manual gilding, and leather intarsia. 

The decorative ornaments of leather art have followed the general trends of the periods. In the 1950s-60s the national ornament with central composition and figural composition was often used. In the 1970s the natural motifs dominated. Since the 1980s has been prevailing geometrical or abstract ornament. The popularity of minimal use of colour and décor as to emphasise the beauty of the natural facture of leather itself is growing. From the 1990s onwards appear other materials beside leather and emerge more daring games with the form.
Eduard Taska (1890 - 1942) has been considered the founder of contemporary Estonian leatherwork. Having studied the art of binding in several leading European art metropolises, E. Taska became the head of the leather workshop (1916 - 24) at the State School of Art and Craft. In 1923 he established a training workshop for leatherwork of his own name in Tallinn. Other well-known artists designed the products of his workshop as well. These leather bindings and leather products were technically perfect and in demand also elsewhere in Europe. Taska started in leather design with ethnographical ornament and ended up in stylish geometrical surface design (exp: book binding “L’Illustration Noël”, 1934; book binding “Le Prince Jaffair”, 1936). E. Taska’s bindings for Honore de Balzac “La Femme de Trente Ans”(1937) and C. Janini “Essai sur la Bibliophile Contemporaine”(1937), influenced by the constructivist manner and made with excellent sense of proportions, were awarded with the Grand Prix at the world exhibition in Paris in 1937. 

E. Taska’s successor as the teacher of the art of book binding became Adele Reindorff (1901 - 1994). During 1925 – 1961 she raised several generations of leather artists. The works by A. Reindorff are characteristically made with great technical excellence; she mastered perfectly also the art of book binding (exp: the guest book, 1957). Innovative contributions to the leather art were made by the grand old man of Estonian art, Adamson-Eric (1902 - 1968), who brought into leather design dynamics and bright colours, innovative white leather, and styled figures and objects in an original way.

Among many others Johanna Koppel, Ella Külv, Elgi Reemets, Aino Lehis, Silvi Kalda, Endel Valk-Falk, Minni Patune, Maret Kuke started their artistic career in the second half of the 1950s and in the 1960s and enriched the basic stock of Estonian leather art with their creations. A. Lehis brought scenic approach into Estonian leatherwork. The book bindings by S. Kalda are technically very versatile and opulent; she has designed also parchment beautifully (exp: book binding “Odyssey”, 1981; binding “Čiurlionis”, 1987). E. Valk-Falk was the first artist to apply batik technique to leather. M.Patune has created magnificent book bindings and boxes in black and white colours with golden line. 

In the 1970s leather art grows more decorative and experimenting. Leather tapestry and special compositions are created by Kaja Kits-Karm, Urve Varik, Urve Arrak. Elo Järv surprises with her leather sculptures and her works of rich imagination decorate many interiors (exp: “Bothways”, 1985). But also the good old book-binding, album, and box are still there. A forceful high relief modelling has been applied in leather art by Esta Voss (exp: guest book “W”, 1975). The book bindings and boxes by Ivi Laas are always perfect in composition where nothing seems to be in excess (exp: binding “The History of Estonian Architecture”, 1983). Also Ella Summatavet and Naima Suude have created book bindings in a similar mode. Luule Maar and Kaja Kits-Karm value the classics of leather, but both authors have been able to set a special emphasis on the leather’s esthetical charm and complement it with a delicate décor or cut. Urmas Orgusaar brings into leather art the intarsia technique and a masculine laconic decor. Mall Mets is making use of the bright-coloured symbols and styling the national ornaments in a contemporary way.

The younger generation of leather artists, including Leanika Korn, Tiina Piisang, Pille Kivihall, Lennart Mänd and others, are actively seeking for new possibilities in the field of new techniques and use boldly different materials together with leather, such as metal, wood, glass, rubber, etc.

Additional information: 
Anne Tiivel –  curator of leather art collection.
Phone: +372 627 4605