Ken Scott: Leather pouch-maker to the stars 

click to enlarge Billy Bob Thornton makes use of Ken Scott's pouch (with attendant powder horn) in 'The Alamo.'
  • Billy Bob Thornton makes use of Ken Scott's pouch (with attendant powder horn) in 'The Alamo.'

When I walk into Ken Scott's studio, not far out of Fountain Square, the first thing I see are his creatures. They're sculptures made out of material such as animal skulls, raw silk, glass bead and leather. One looks like an Egyptian mummy with a head peaking out of the top, crowned by feathers. Others more closely resemble Native American totems. They could've been used as props for The Blair Witch Project.

This menagerie of creatures will populate, in part, a one-night only show, The Art of Ken Scott, taking place First Friday at the Harold Lee Miller Photography Studio. Scott is better known, however, for his leather pouches, which have appeared on the cover of the magazines Muzzleloader and Muzzle Blast.

"Basically, it's what I call reproduction art," Scott says of the pouches. "I've always had an enjoyment of history and things that people have loved and held onto and passed on from generation to generation. A few years ago I got involved in muzzle loading and all the accoutrements and paraphernalia that go with that. So I started making leather pouches - those are the hunting bags that people would carry during colonial times to service their weapons. Over the years I've made approximately 700 of those and 95 percent of them were completely different from the others."

In order to promote his work, he started traveling to Friendship, Ind., the headquarters of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association, where he found an appreciative audience. He's been recognized as one of the country's top traditional craftspersons by Early American Life magazine. And he's also worked on Hollywood productions. Billy Bob Thornton, who played Davy Crockett in the 2004 feature film The Alamo, wore Scott's pouches during his performance.

"I had to make three of them because it's a movie prop, and when it gets destroyed or damaged they can't start the whole film over," he says.

click to enlarge Scott's Stede Bonnet-inspired map uses the inside of an old ledger book as a canvas.
  • Scott's Stede Bonnet-inspired map uses the inside of an old ledger book as a canvas.

Scott's talents are also in demand locally. He teaches classes on leatherworking - as well as other crafts related to his art - at Conner Prairie.

There's one more element of Scott's work left to discuss: his paintings or maps. Frequently using the inside of book covers as canvases, Scott creates antique-looking maps that are often related to some historical event but frequently take off on an odd tangent. The maps employ Fraktur script - an angular, "gothic" style often used for German typesetting through the early 20th century - and are extensively illustrated. A piece that has to do with the 18th-century pirate Stede Bonnet is painted on the pages of an old cash ledger book (accounting for his adventures, as it were).

"Captain Stede Bonnet was a plantation owner in Barbados who decided that he wanted to become a pirate," Scott says. "He sailed the seas for approximately a year and a half or so and was actually captured by Bluebeard. So I created this drawing of Captain Stede Bonnet and his sighting of a mermaid."

Scott has, aside from some travels in the Caribbean and South America, spent his entire life in the Midwest. He was born in West Frankfort, Ill., in 1942, and attended Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

Scott worked as a marketing director for L.S. Ayres when the chain still operated a downtown store. Back then, in the late seventies, you might say that his job was, in part, to make the old seem new. At that time, downtown shopping had become déclassé.

Now, he tries to make materials look old by "antiquing them," making his pouches and maps appear as if they came straight out of the 18th century. Not that he's giving that knowledge away. When I ask him about the antiquing process, he just puts a hand on my shoulder, laughs, and says, "I teach a class on that."


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