Beneath his quiet exterior there lies a tough, determined artisan with very specific ideas about his work. Ricky (Rino) Novak, a self-confessed leather addict got hooked 46 years ago as a ten year old kid in New Jersey, when he fashioned a leather case for his comb: he still has the original. In the ensuing years he experimented with, expanded, and improved on both his techniques and his designs until his hobby began to produce some of the unique pieces of leatherwork on his website: www.rinoleatherworks.com.
Now a resident of Marco Island, Novak divides his time between working on his designs for clients, hunched over a workbench and then loosening his muscles on the tennis courts. His products for men and women include briefcases, wallets, handbags, andalmost anything else that can be made from leather.
Novak says he is not aware of any other leather artisan who transfers patterns to leather the way he does. Once on the leather, the drawing is developed by his using an ‘etching’ process requiring thousands of micro-cuts to allow the leather to open and accept the color he applies.
A leather aficionado knows that one has to see in person, touch and smell a piece of fine, natural tanned leather to appreciate it fully, and Novak’s work is no different. Just the sight of it makes you want to pick it up and fondle it, to enjoy fully the imperfections in a natural hide and to understand how fine craftsmanship has taken advantage of each scar and scrape to enhancea design. Some of his older pieces have only improved with age and use. He has a briefcase fashioned from over 100 pieces of leather, skived (a process of shaving off layers of the hide) to give the pieces a seamless fit. All of his personal items are carried in cases he has fashioned specifically for their purposes: cards, money, keys, a water bottle carrier.
Novak selects every skin himself and uses no chemical dyes. If he wants colors in his designs, he uses eco-friendly natural tree bark or vegetable-based coloring. He chooses deerskin, cowhide, lambskin, python, and stingray, depending on the weight and thickness, color, texture, and durability required.
“All my designs are original,” said Novak, “based on aesthetics and function. I like to fill the needs and desiresof clients so that they can choose exactly what they want and be assured no one else will have an article exactly like it.”
He stitches everything by hand, after punching holes to accept the sewing or leather strips and uses no machines.
“When your muscles are aching from leaning over a worktable, your fingers bleeding and your eyes strained, you know you must love what you are doing,” he said.
He is tired of the current trends, he stated, even in fast food which now seems to concentrate on making everything double, giant-sized and overworked.
Novak was once employed in communications sales, opening call centers for clients, and understands how “the Internet has not only opened up the world for people, it has also, from a client perspective, cheapened some products.I want my clients to know ‘This one is made for me, as I want it, by hand in this country …’”
Obviously, the label-conscious consumer will not be attracted to or appreciate Novak’s painstakingly assembled works of wearable leather art.
Visit his website to enjoy the gallery of designs, while understanding that you too will want to contact Ricky personally in order to see and touch, enjoy and appreciate his fine work. Pieces are priced from $100 up.
Ricky’s work can be found at www.rinoleatherworks.com, where you will find more information and instructions for contacting.