Frank Solivan returns to leatherwork during shutdown

When we are a decade or so down the road from the great COVID scare of 2020, you are likely to find musicians and artists of every type when they congregate, talking about what they did during that time to keep body and soul together – a bit like those essays we had to write every fall when school started back up… What I Did On My Summer Vacation.

Even part time bands depend on the income from their live shows, and full time touring acts suddenly saw what looked like a good year go straight down the drain. Some were able to successfully navigate the government loans, some forgivable, to keep some food on the table, but many others were left looking for some sort of work during a drastically down economy.

Some found other ways to maintain some income in the music field, by offering lessons online, or by doling out music and instructional content using Patreon. But those who had marketable skills that could be could be sold online could see at least a partial recoupment of lost income in that vein.

One such is Frank Solivan, mandolinist, fiddler, singer, and songwriter, who leads the progressive bluegrass outfit, Dirty Kitchen, or did prior to March of 2020. A true renaissance man, Frank has dabbled in many areas of interest during his life, becoming a fine personal chef who has offered his custom spice blends for sale online for some time. The down time last year also left him in search of something to keep him busy, and he returned to something he had loved as a child.

Solivan recalls that when he was a child, his mother had a passion for leather stamping, making all sorts of belts, bags, and other items that were very popular among her friends. So he pulled out her old tools, and started back into the craft.

“I’ve kind of fiddled with leather for a long time, and a couple of years ago I made a really bitchin’ strap for Trey Hensley,” he tells us, “and a strap and a matching belt for Billy Stings. My dad found a bunch of my mom’s leather working tools a few years ago, and I’ve been getting my skills back recently.

Then I realized, Oh hell… I ain’t got no gigs.”

So he set up a space for leather working in his shop and started experimenting with designs and dyes, and created a web site called Solworks, with examples of the work he was doing. And understand, this is not quick, follow-a-pattern sort of leatherwork. The belts, instrument straps, and other items Solivan creates are of the very highest quality, using only the finest leather he can find, and painstakingly tooled, dyed, and finished to order for customers all over the US.

He says that now after putting up the web site, he has trouble keeping up with the orders.

“I polish them nicely and coat them with a nice leather finisher. I want to do them to the best of my ability, and they are really turning out nicely. I like to think of it as leather arts.

It’s been great to offset the pandemic, and it’s something I really dig doing. I’ve always been sort of artsy – used to draw when I was youngster – and this scratches that itch.

It’s not like it’s completely replaced my lost gig income, but it keeps me doing something with my hands.”

He offers straps, cut to order, for banjo, guitar, and both A and F style mandolins. His handcrafted belts are something to see, perfect as a gift or for someone who is very meticulous about their appearance. He has recently begun experimenting with custom holsters for shooting enthusiasts as well.

Frack says that he is starting a new batch at the end of March, after heading on a Florida vacation this week and some deep water fishing with his dad.

As far as Dirty Kitchen goes, Solivan is hopeful for 2021.

“I just got some offers for the band today in the spring, and have some shows for the summer, and more in the fall.”

You can see all of Frank’s custom leather art at The Solworks web site. Please expect several weeks between orders and delivery. These things take time.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.