Konverents „Oma nahk“ / Conference Report: "Own Skin"
On 19th November 2020, members of the Estonian Native Crafts programme of the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy held a conference entitled ‘Own Skin’. It took place at the Estonian Traditional Music Centre in Viljandi, and focussed on the use of animal hide as a material in handicraft and applied arts. The conference addressed domestic, as well as wild, animal hide, and presentations were made by individual producers, producers’ associations, and representatives of higher educational establishments.
Vet, and President of the Kihnu Native Sheep Association, Anneli ÄrmpaluIdvand, asserted that all the products of that ancient breed are worthwhile. The most valuable is their double fleece, which has given them the reputation of providing warm sheepskin coats. She underlined the importance of an approach that makes use of all of the produce that can be derived from sheep.
The President of the Estonian Sheep and Goat Breeders Association, Vallo Seera, gave an overview of the mass production dimension of the sheep-breeding industry where shearing and skinning are not planned separately. Taking care of the fleece, skinning, taking the hide to the tannery and processing it further, is all quite expensive, and this is why the hides are usually thrown away. In order to reduce such waste, the awareness of the processors, as well as of consumers, needs to be raised.
A student of the leatherwork module at the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy and an animal protection activist, Kadri Võrel, gave a presentation about the use of wild animal hides in the past and nowadays. She underlined the fact that game hide is a so-called ‘fair leather’ and this should be taken into account when valorising it. The Managing Director of the Estonian Hunters’ Society, Tõnis Korts, presented an overview of the problems relating to animal hides from the point of view of hunters. The Estonian Hunters’ Society has made efforts to promote the better use of hides: its export is supervised, and courses have been held on the correct skinning techniques and initial processing, as well as on making leather items.
The Head of the Native Craft Studies of the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy, Ave Matsin, presented the results of investigations into the use of animal skin in Estonia, which proved to be a surprisingly complicated issue. In order to map the information, it is first necessary to establish the precise role of institutions and the division of responsibilities between the ministries and the state boards.
A member of the board of Skineks, Ingmar Baida, gave an overview of the only Estonian tannery, which is located in Jõgeva. Each year, Skineks tans approximately 50 000 lambskins and 100 goatskins. Hunters bring the animal hides to be tanned. Most often this is beaver hide. Out of the 7000–8000 beavers hunted per year, approximately 500 reach the Skineks tannery. A special feature of the vegetable tanning used by Skineks is that the skin is not pressed and therefore the leather maintains its unique surface structure.
The head of the leatherwork module and lecturer in traditional leatherwork at Viljandi Culture Academy, Kristina Rajando, gave a presentation about the module and the work of students. The module includes studying animal lifecycles, and continues with skinning and leatherwork. Eve Kaaret, a leather artist and artisan at an accessories and bookbinding studio, discussed the long traditions of making footwear, bags and binding at the Leather Art Department of the Estonian Academy of Arts where leather is still preferred despite the arrival of several other materials. The Director of the Leather Art Department at Pallas University of Applied Sciences, Professor Rene Haljasmäe, surveyed the trends through exhibition pieces made by the students and the professor. In addition to leather art and design, Pallas also teaches students how to restore leather items. Just as it is at the Estonian Art Academy, the vegetable-tanned leather produced by Skineks is highly valued at Pallas too.
The round-table discussion that followed the conference concentrated on what might be hindering the more widespread use of local skin and which steps might be taken to increase demand for Estonian local skin and the products that can be made from it.