Dave Summers has been a member of the Lithia Artisans Market for many seasons. I have been in awe of his shoe making skills as long as I have known Dave. His attention to details is impeccable, his style is rustic, woodsy, elven for lack of a better word. The name of his self created enterprise, not surprisingly, is Elf Mountain Leather. Elf Mountain specializes in hand made, one of a kind shoes and boots, as well as a wide assortment of other cool goodies created from leather. Dave is a kind man, a hard worker, an attentive father, and a good friend. We spoke briefly about his craft and these are his thoughts.
What inspired you to become a leather shoe maker?
Dave… I have always loved leather goods, even as a kid. I love the smell when they are new, and the worn look down the road. Once I bought a pair of lightweight moccasins and fell in love with them. Sadly, they did not last more than a year because my foot was sliding off the side of the sole. I tried patching them but it did not solve the problem. Heartbroken I threw them away and thought to myself, “moccasins should be made with repairs in mind”. Soon after that experience I set out to make a moccasin that would not allow the heel to slide off the side of the sole.
How did you learn your craft?
Dave… I first learned about the Apache Style moccasin that I make from a short article in a hand-crafters encyclopedia. Then I set out to create my own style. I did a lot of trial and error experimentation for about 6 years. After that period of creative discovery I felt confident I had an excellent product to offer the market.
Do you have any mentors in your life who have helped you become the artisan you are today?
Dave… I have had no mentor, but I would talk to moccasin and shoe makers at festivals and pick up tips on gluing, and purchasing supplies. Other than tips, I am a completely self taught artisan.
You studied psychology in college. Do you use the skills you learned in college as an artisan?
Dave… I have a master’s degree in cognitive psychology and I do indeed use it while making shoes. In fact, I make shoes for your head. Seriously though, I have professional skills from graduate school, and I like to do healing with people. Sometimes people will ask me to hold an intention, or thought, while building their shoes. After 16 or more hours of focused attention the finished product is like a talisman.
You are the only handmade shoe person I have ever met. Are there many of you out there, or is your craft a forgotten art-form?
Dave... There are just a few shoemakers out there. I think it is not easy to get started. Materials are expensive and no one wants to wear poorly made shoes. I am doing historical preservation.
Why is handcrafted important?
Dave… Handcrafted shoes have a special vibration. They are full of love and vibrate harmoniously with the Earth. Not only that, shoes made exactly for your foot fit perfectly and are therefore super comfortable. I prefer to make the shoes specially for the individual person. There is no pair of shoes more comfortable than the pair made just for your feet.
What distinguishes you from other shoe makers?
Dave… I make shoes for people so every pair is different, just like people.
What items are available to purchase out of your store, Elf Mountain Leather, when you set up at the Lithia Artisans Market?
Dave… In addition to moccasins I make purses, messenger bags, backpacks, hip pouches, wallets, journals, wrist cuffs, and juggling balls. I have made some stylie vests and pants too. Come by and check it out as it is always changing, always new.
Where did you come from and why did you choose to settle down in Ashland?
Dave… I moved here from Nederland, Colorado. My daughter was 4 and we have loved raising her in Ashland. I like Ashland because it is progressive and outdoor oriented.
In your opinion, why is the local arts and crafts movement important?
Dave… I live like many artists. I have a lot of faith, and have learned to appreciate things. I also save a lot time and money working at home. No better place to make a positive impact than right in your own backyard.
What do you most enjoy about being a member of the Lithia Artisans Market?
Dave… I enjoy being with like minded people. There are some wonderful artists in the Rogue Valley and I am honored to be a part of the community.
What other big shows are you doing this year?
Dave… I’m vending at Faerieworlds, as I do every year, and hopefully Oregon Country Fair this summer. I am juried into the Fair and looking for a vendor who wants to share their booth with me. Anybody out there got room in their booth for a leather shoe maker?
Tell us something about you that has nothing to do with your art-form.
Dave... Life is good and we are all the artists of our own lives. I am convinced that we are all one, and happy that no two of us are alike.
For more information about Dave Summers and Elf Mountain Leather go to… elfmountain.com. You can also find Dave down on Ashland Creek at the Lithia Artisans Market, open weekends from April until mid-November (weather permitting), behind the plaza, in lower Lithia Park, downtown Ashland.