CHERRYFIELD — Scratches, scars and other imperfections. They are usually reason to reject something. But on a custom-made motorcycle seat, a weathered hide looks just right and conveys character.
It’s those marks on animal hides that appeal to Cherryfield artist Emma Thieme, who crafts custom leather motorcycle seats.
She also creates a variety of leather bags ranging from totes and clutches to backpacks and hip bags. She does business for both as Maven Leather and Seats.
“I’m most inspired by the leather itself,” Maven Leather and Seats’ proprietor recently said. “With my art I’m trying to show people there’s beauty in imperfection.”
Thieme travels to a tannery in central Maine to choose hides.
“Bison is my favorite,” she said. “A lot of people doing what I’m doing are buying huge lots of leather.” That leads to a generic look.
In contrast, Emma examines each hide to see if she wants to work with it. The more a hide shows evidence of a full life, the better.
“I look for imperfections or variations in color. It’s just part of my work to remind people where leather comes from and to see beauty in that,” she continued. “A lot of other leather workers want perfection.”
Business has been growing.
To that end, you’ll find Emma in her studio/shop — at 6 Park St. in the historic Knapp-Saks building in downtown Cherryfield. She had been working from the 550-square-foot house that she and her partner C.J. built on Sprague Falls Road.
In the latter, Emma had no room to store finished seats and hand bags. The workspace was cramped. Creating the custom forms for the bike seats requires space, too. She molds and cuts layer after layer of foam to create the look she’s after.
Her new location also is sunny thanks to large picture windows that once upon a time displayed toys and gifts. The new quarters have ample room for benches and supplies including rolls of hides and glass jars of solid brass fittings.
Several rolls of leather await their turn with Emma’s nimble fingers and a vintage Durkopp Adler sewing machine from Germany.
Emma uses a durable, ultraviolet light-bonded thread.
“Your product is only as good as your thread,” she said. The bonded thread “really pops up the leather.”
Emma fell into the trade. Over 10 years ago, a friend gave her a garbage bag of leather scraps.
“I was intimidated,” she said. “I’d never worked with leather before. But she forced it on me.”
Her own motorcycle carried her on the path to her current enterprise.
“When I got a motorcycle, I wanted to do a customized seat for it,” she said. “Eventually I went to school for auto upholstery in New Jersey.”
The motorcycle seats keep her busy.
Customers will ship their seat pan to her and a discussion will follow about what they want.
“I create it by sculpture,” Emma said. “I use different layers of foam to make it really comfortable.”
“I’m more of a seamstress with my leather work,” she said. “I don’t do tooling and carving.”
“People are trusting me more because I’ve built up my portfolio,” she added.
One happy customer from Connecticut said, “Building my [Harley-Davidson] HD Scrambler was a labor of love. But the only thing I couldn’t find was the right seat.”
He found Emma in American Motorcyclist Association magazine.
“We talked over the phone about the look I was going for and wow, she knocked it out of the park, made a one-of-a-kind seat to fit my one of a kind Harley. I just sent her my 2016 Fat Boy S seats so she can ‘Maven-ize’ them.”
Emma also creates leather hand/shoulder bags and accessories.
“I use the bags as a nice reprieve from the seats and vice-versa,” she said.
She recently used insect and flower dyes to create a new line of bags. She’s had success with goldenrod, which she harvests behind her home.
Emma plans to continue experimenting with natural dyes.
“Because leather is so different from hide to hide, it’s going to accept dye in different ways,” she explained. She recently found a print of a “seasonal color wheel” so she can use what’s in season to achieve certain hues.
“I really do care about being sustainable,” Emma said. To that end, her loads of leather scraps are donated to Goodwill.
This upcoming summer, Thieme plans to have a retail offering at the Park Street shop. Currently, her leather bags and accessories are available on her website as well as the shop.
The shop’s summer hours will likely be by chance because she participates in a number of art shows.
“I just was accepted into the American Artisans Festival in Nashville, Tenn.,” she said.
She’ll also likely return to the Common Ground Fair.
“I’ll probably put a sign out on Route 1 when studio hours are open. I do want to share it with people,” she said of her studio work. Plus, working alone all the time can be isolating.
Emma is a graduate of the University of Maine-Orono with a journalism degree. She says she loves writing and produced stories for a travel website after graduating but really wanted to have her own business.
“I don’t remember a time in my life I didn’t sew,” said Emma, who was taught by her mother. “We made all my prom dresses, formal dresses.”
And so, sewing machines have been a constant. Wherever she moved after leaving home — whether her college dorm room or an apartment — sewing machines were lugged along.
“I always brought my sewing machine wherever I went.”
Emma will host a grand opening for Maven Leather and Seats on May 25. Until then, the shop at 6 Park St. in Cherryfield is open by chance or appointment. For more info, call 385-9411, email [email protected] or visit www.mavenleather.com.