On a rainy morning in Saskatoon, Brad Kimball greets me at the door of his home and studio with a wide grin. He leads me through the living room strewn with music equipment toward the kitchen and workspace at the back of the house. I look out over a very green backyard while he brews us coffee in his Chemex. Within minutes we’re chatting about growing up in small towns, travelling, getting close to marriage and then ending relationships. He offers me a bowl of blueberries with my coffee, laughingly telling me these are the two things he requires to start his morning. Our conversation flows easily, crackling with the chemistry of new friendship.
He shows me around his workspace, packed tightly in a small, wood-veneer panelled room cornered by the kitchen and living room. Shelves showcase a few of his finished pieces, personal photographs, framed doodlings and flash work of vintage American-style tattoos. His leather working tools hang neatly over a table where large rolls of leather are laid out. Brad notes that all his leather is sourced from ethical tanneries in North America. Opposite stands a vintage sea-foam green sewing machine and work lamp. Brad gets down to work on a backpack he’s designing inspired by one a friend owns. I snap photos and our conversation continues. It’s over an hour before we even sit down to talk formally about Brad’s work.
FULL: When you were showing me around your workspace, you mentioned your sewing machine and the fact that you love things made in the sixties and seventies. Can you tell me more about the machine and your love for vintage tools?
Brad Kimball: I like the fact that it has story behind it. I bought it from this guy in Regina. It was the first machine that he bought when he began making industrial spring covers for the construction industry. That was a business he’d started to support his family. And when I went to pick it up, he had about twenty machines and employees working under him. I think that’s part of what I like about old stuff. It has a kind of legacy behind it. I like to take older things that still have purpose and use left and use them in my work.
I also like the simplicity of older machines. My truck is a 1984 Dodge Ram. The dash has about has 4 switches. It doesn’t even have a clock. I think the attraction is that I feel good working with simple machines like that. It’s also a kind of paying respect to what was built on that machine earlier.
FULL: What you’re describing reminds me of the history of tradition in trades. People got in to certain kinds of work through family connections. The skills and tools were passed down through the generations.
BK: I feel my work is something that has been passed down to me, without me necessarily being connected to what it’s passed down from. But there’s that sense of rightness when I’m working on it.
FULL: What drew you to working with leather specifically?
BK: There are so many things about it. The feel of it, how long it lasts, how it wears. I love that I’ll see a wallet that I’ve made owned by a skate rat or a city worker, and they wear so differently. The skate rat’s wallet will be disgusting and grimy. The patina on it will be caked. It takes on the story of the person who owns it. I like the idea of making stuff that can stand the test of time and be passed on to people. It’s the same as with the sewing machine. I have my grandpa’s hatchet with the old hatchet cover, and the grime and life it’s taken on is so interesting to me.
I got into making leather goods because I wanted a wallet and I didn’t feel like dropping 80 bucks on it at the time. I bought a little piece of leather and made one. I’ve always made stuff, but I found that I specifically loved working with leather. The feel of it, the smell of it, to the finished product. It just felt good.
FULL: Earlier you mentioned your love for the local culture in Saskatoon and the community support for makers here. How did you become tapped into that culture? Is there a specific item you remember buying from a maker that hooked you?
BK: I think it was the community. It wasn’t one physical thing or a purchase, but the community behind it. I find that in independent business there’s a lot of integrity and genuine interest. There are a lot of good, honest people putting out good and thoughtful things for community. Especially being new to the city, that community pulled me in. Coffee’s also been huge for me. I’ve always loved the craft of making coffee, the slowness to it, and really taking time to sit back and enjoy it. So I think if one physical thing drew me into independent business, it was third-wave coffee.
There’s been a lot of really amazing people that I’ve met through my work, and that’s just in a small city. Independent businesses have ways of making really great communities. It’s not the only way, but it’s a great way.