Marion artist brings leather tooling to the tri-town

By Andrea Ray | Oct 07, 2017
Photo by: Andrea Ray Casey Gunschel demonstrates how to tool leather at her studio on County Road.

Marion — Marion artist Casey Gunschel leans over a strip of wet leather ("It has to be wet to work with it") and draws a knife through the hide, etching out a scrolling design. It's mid-morning in her studio on County Road. Nearby on a raised platform, her cheerful "guard dog" Mr. Pants (real name: Senor Pantalones) is asleep.

The swirling design signals Gunschel's first step in creating a new piece of art. After this, she'll draw more designs with a swiveling knife, then use a wooden mallet to stamp designs—stars, leaves, gemoetric shapes—near her sketches. Then she'll oil and condition the leather, and hopefully send it off to her new home.

Gunschel, a Marion native, graduated from Old Rochester Regional High School, and attended the Art Institute of Chicago. She quickly found herself amongst the art scene in Chicago, working not with leather but running a wallpaper company and working in theater set design.

She remained in the Windy City for several years, before following a former boyfriend, who worked as a smoke jumper [a firefighter trained to fight large forest fires], to rural Oregon.

"It was so quiet there," Gunschel said of her time in Oregon. "I really missed the arts scene in Chicago." An enthusiastic equestrian, she located a saddle-maker shortly afterwards and begged him to show her to make saddles herself.

The saddle-maker built Western-style saddles, the type with intricate leather details seen in old western movies. "He showed me how he tooled the leather," Gunschel explained, "and I never had any idea that all of those intricate shapes and designs were all handmade."

Gunschel was hooked from that point on, but her bigger projects wouldn't come right away. She and a metalworker friend joined together to create custom belts, when one day they were visited by an interior designer. "The designer wondered if I would be able to create the designs on an entire wall," Gunschel said.

She works on four to five pieces she describes as "very large" every year. "They're my favorite, because it's super-custom work."

In the studio was a plan for her latest piece, a leather-paneled wall. Several leather squares, which Gunschel designed and hand-tooled, together create the image of a tree over a California beach. The finished piece arrived recently in California, to decorate one wall of a family's house.

She's also created leather wall art for bars and custom tabletops for homes.

In between the larger projects, Gunschel works on smaller pieces; both her studio and portfolio feature belts, purses, backpacks, even axe covers. A recent side project is mini leather animals, made from scrap leather; giraffes, horses, dogs, elephants, rhinos and buffalo. "I take them to art shows; they're neat little Christmas ideas," Gunschel explained.

Gunschel is only a recent transplant back into the tri-town; she moved back two years ago, to be closer to family. While originally planning to move to the southwest, "My brother has children, and I'd like to see them grow up," she explained.

To see more of Gunschel's work or contact her directly, visit www.caseygunschel.com

Two mini versions of Mr. Pants! (Presumably the subject himself was asleep on his bed.) (Courtesy of: Casey Gunschel)
Gunschel at work on a custom leather table. (Courtesy of: Casey Gunschel)
A leather tapestry hand-tooled by Gunschel. (Courtesy of: Casey Gunschel)
Details on a custom-made guitar strap. (Courtesy of: Casey Gunschel)
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