As a solitary craftsman working out of his Lower East Side workshop, Bennett Liberty is a bit shy. He has spent the better part of 30 years making couture handbags that sell from $1,000 to $12,000. In fact, bags have always fascinated him ("the design and engineering is far more complicated than people realize"). But in the past few years Liberty has begun to branch out, crafting bowls and objets using his favored technique of wrapping hard shells in exotic skins. "Bags are a vessel form and so are bowls," he says. "So it was a natural extension." It takes Liberty 14 to 18 hours spread over a month to make one of his newest creations: He first cuts and forms the copper plates, then patinates them, then applies French and Swiss shagreen—stingray—leather. "It's among the most difficult materials to handle. Each part of each skin is decidedly different," he says. "It's like skiing unknown terrain. You never know what you're going to encounter." Uncut shagreen has a pebble-like finish and was traditionally used on sword handles as a grip. Later, a shaved version was inlaid in Art Deco furniture. "The inspiration for the form came from my interest in antiques and anti-quities," says Liberty. "I'm always searching for objects of wonder and delight." At 551 Grand Street, No. 9, New York, NY; 212-254-5607; www.bennettliberty.com.
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Give Me Liberty
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