There’s nothing like doing something the old-fashioned way. At Pergamena tannery in Montgomery, founder and owner Jesse Meyer creates gorgeous leather goods using vegetable tanning, a natural process that goes back to the very origins of leather.
“Tanning has been around for thousands of years. Until the mid-19th century, vegetable extracts were really the only way to tan leather,” Meyer says. In the 1860s, German technologist Friedrich Knapp and Swedish chemist Hylten Cavalin invented chrome tanning, using chromium compounds to create a thinner, stretchier leather that was much faster to produce. “They were embracing the wonders of modern chemistry without looking at the drawbacks,” says Meyer. “Heavy metals getting into groundwater is a huge problem. We’ve found it’s better to stick with the traditional processes.”
Pergamena’s commitment to heritage methods extends to machinery; some of the tools and devices used at the tannery were built as early as 1898.
Meyer and his team source a wide variety of animal hides, including cow, goat, sheep, and deer. Over the years, they’ve worked with an increasing number of Hudson Valley farms, like Kinderhook Farm and Paddock Farm, to source skins. In crafting gorgeous book bindings, chairs, and wallets, they ensure that no part of an animal goes to waste.
Pergamena will soon partner on a new initiative to offer leather made specifically from hides of pastured animals raised on regenerative farms. “We’re working on a line of traceable leathers,” Meyer says. “People are more and more interested in where their textiles come from. We are trying to create a network, and certainly Hudson Valley farms are the place to start.”