In the spirit of #GivingTuesday, we are re-sharing this article we originally published in 2017. Updated 2023.
Here at Walnut Studiolo, we make sure every scrap of material is put to good use. And what scrap leather we can't use (like our Headphone Organizer and Leather Washers), we donate to the organization Help Heal Veterans to make craft kits for veterans.
Learn more about the history and role of leathercrafting in helping veterans cope with PTSD and this wonderful organization serving those veterans with free craft kits.
History of Veterans and Leather: WWII and the Tandy Family
The experience of military combat can often trigger Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which can manifest in physical and psychological symptoms. Craft kits can help veterans cope, heal, and recover, whether it's restoring coordination and impaired motor skills, improving concentration, relieving symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, or as diversions and recreational therapy for patients.
NOTE: If you are in crisis dial 911 or 800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
Click here for the VA's PTSD website.
Much of the DIY leathercraft stores and books available today can be credited to the impact on WWII veterans. Some of those soldiers, like Al Stohlman, discovered their love for leathercraft during the war and helped to evangelize the practice afterwards; while some soldiers, like Charles Tandy, realized early-on its value in helping veterans recover and saw business potential.
Bud Shrake noted in a 1957 Fort Worth Press story about Tandy that off-duty personnel and hospital patients, "many of the war-wounded, cut their own hides, drew their own patterns, did their own tooling, and turned out slippers, belts, billfolds." The armed forces used leatherwork in therapeutic programs at military hospitals, recreation centers, and rehab facilities.
In the August 2019 issue of Shop Talk!, Gene Fowler writes that Charles Tandy noticed the remarkable benefits soldiers obtained from leathercrafting while serving in the Navy from 1941-47, writing to his father about observing leatherwork therapy in action in Hawaii. After the war, he worked to transform his father Dave Tandy's shoe supply company into the biggest DIY leathercraft store business in the country, still in operation today as Tandy Leather Factory with over 100 stores in 3 countries. Tandy later hired Al Stohlman, who began his leather tooling practice with a 1/4" army-issued GI belt while stationed in New Guinea and went on to become a renowned and prolific how-to book writer and illustrator.
Introducing Help Heal Vets: Crafting Kits For a Cause
Since 1971, the organization Help Heal Veterans have been providing free craft kits to veterans through military facilities, state vet homes, healing centers and direct from their website.
"These projects give war veterans something to think about so their minds are not dwelling on the unfortunate experiences of war," says Plant Manager Chip Purkey who has been with the organization since 1998. "The hand-eye coordination required for these projects has been the biggest benefit - it helps with physical recovery."
Chip says the projects give the vets a great sense of accomplishment and they often pass them on as gifts to loved ones.
How Walnut Got Involved
We were so pleased when Help Heal Veterans contacted us and asked if we might donate some of our scrap leather to the organization. It charmed us even more when we realized Chip was rather familiar with the veg-tanned leather we use.
"Hermann Oak is an extremely generous opportunity. I know this leather well - carves like butter! There aren't many leather people around and it's great that you guys are out there doing what you do."
It turns out Chip is no stranger to the craft industry; he got his start with an after school job outlining Paint by Number illustrations for Craft Master when his father worked for the company.
Healing Vets Through All Crafts
Help Heal Veterans specializes in leather and wood craft kits of sorts, from the most simple to far more complex: clocks, music boxes, detailed models, moccasins, refined leather purses, etc. Over the years they have distributed millions of what they call "therapeutic kits." The name seems perfectly accurate.
Though some people are skeptical at first, Chip says that 9.5 out 10 vets are hooked after trying their first kit. Some have even gone on to outfit their homes with complete workshops so they can work on more complex projects.
Chip says, "Not a week goes by without someone saying, 'Oh my gosh you don't know what this does for me - I look forward to these kits.' "
"I've made some pretty significant friends all over the country," Chip adds, "Just A-1 people."
Making a Difference
"You know, the sad reality is that there are far too many financially challenged vets. Partners like you make us able to do what we do. We welcome it with open arms and just can't thank you enough."
Chip says one of the most valuable things people can do to support the organization is simply to let veterans know the resource exists and to help them get their hands on some kits.
Learn more about Healing Vets and how you can support their good work at HealVets.org.
Watch the Video[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKPzK0Xx1b4]
Do you know a veteran who needs a free leathercrafting kit? Contact Help Heal Vets directly:
Help Heal Veterans, Inc.
36585 Penfield Lane
Winchester, CA 92596
The mission of Veterans Guide is to assist veterans with the array of issues they may face, including obtaining proper disability compensation, financial assistance, information on the GI bill, and more. We have created some helpful guides and will continuously be adding more. Check out our organization below:
Veterans Guide - veteransguide.org/