NNSL Photo/Graphic

Home page text size buttonsbigger textsmall textText size Email this articleE-mail this page

Stretching out a tradition
Time and effort put into moosehide tanning

Mark Rieder
Northern News Services
Thursday, August 13, 2015

Spectators at the Western Arctic Visitor Centre got a lesson in tanning during a presentation on how to cure moosehide under a sunny sky on Aug. 9.

NNSL photo/graphic

Sharon Anderson, left, and Cindy Bower scrape a moosehide during an event organized by Western Arctic Tourism and Parks at the visitor centre on Aug. 9. - Mark Rieder/NNSL photo

Donald Prince, originally from Fort St. John, instructed an eager audience of up to 25 people on the rapidly vanishing craft.

He said the trick to making the perfect hide is in the consistency of the work done.

"The scraping is the most crucial part, you have to do it evenly," he said.

After soaking the hide, typically in an acid wash, the hair can be removed. Prince said many people use lye to help soften the hair.

The hair can then be used for moose hair tufting, where individual hairs are woven into fabric in designs.

The result is a three-dimensional work of art that has a smooth textured feel.

The craft of moosehide tanning is becoming a rare art because of the time, effort and many steps required to do it correctly.

"It's not a one-hour thing. It's not a one-day thing. It's a process," he said, adding that it can a couple of weeks to complete if it is worked on for eight hours a day under warm, dry conditions.

"You try to make it one uniform thickness all the way through. By doing that you can get it to the next stage where you soak it, wring it through, smoke it, dry it out, soften it up and smoke it again," said Prince.

"The smoke makes a chemical reaction in there and what happens is it combines with the other chemicals in the hide and it'll stay soft."

That step is important in making the hide resistant to age and moisture.

"What you're doing when you smoke it, is preserving it. You're making it stronger, waterproofing it. Those kinds of things," said Prince.

Although he uses linseed oil to help in the curing process, in the tradition of never wasting any part of the animal, there are other materials that will do the same job.

"Moose brain has a lot of oil in it and it goes into the hide," said Prince.

His passion for teaching people comes from his father, who used to tell him that sharing knowledge is a way to honour those who taught him.

"My father told me, 'If you know something, unless you pass it on, it's useless,'" Prince said.

There was no shortage of people willing to try their hand at scraping the small patches of leftover hair from the hide he had stretched out on a frame.

E-mailWe welcome your opinions. Click here to e-mail a letter to the editor.