WHEATLAND – Born out of Albuquerque, N.M., Eric Hannig makes a statement saying, “Some of the Finest leatherwork comes from Wyoming. I’m just trying to be a part of that.”
Some of the finest quality leather work and leather tooling can be found right here in Platte County. Whether you want a leather purse, a set of leather ornamented shoes, chaps or even a saddle, Hannig does it all.
Hannig has a very colorful past and some of the adversity he has walked through has toughened him up, and at the same time brought out the creative in him. His younger brother and himself were raised by a 90-year-old couple when the Hannig’s parents were going through some tough times.
“My biological parents were not around, unfortunately,” Hannig said. “This older couple took in my mother and my siblings and then later down the line when the couple got into their mid-90s, my brother and I moved up here to Wyoming.”
Now, you may think the brothers were old enough to take care of themselves, and that may have been true, but Hannig’s younger brother was only seven and he had just turned nine. Hannig had an uncle who was originally from Cheyenne, and so without many options, the boys came up from New Mexico and became Wyomingites.
To make a long story short, Hannig moved in with his aunt in Cheyenne.
“If me and my brother weren’t taken by somebody, then we would have ended up in prison or ended up in some wild gang,” he said. “I am very grateful to what my aunt did for me and my brother, moving us up here.”
When they moved up to Wyoming, both his aunt and uncle were working at the time and Hannig said that they needed a hobby, again, to keep them out of trouble. His brother began braiding dog collars, leashes, and straps for teachers around his school. At this point, they happened upon a place called the Tandy Leather Company.
“It was in Cheyenne,” he said. “And they had just reopened their store in 2009 and I remember going in there and I remembered it was the first time I ever smelled the smell of hand coat which is the finish I use on most of my projects. I was also amazed at how many tools were on that wall. Not only the tools, but the kits. It was at that time that I knew I wanted to try to make a purse or a binder or whatever I’d seen at that time. I started taking the classes there.”
It was a likely place for his dream to start, but with who he described as a grumpy old man, getting grumpier by the year and that would have been his unlikely mentor. It was up to Hannig to win over the old man’s heart. Eventually he did.
But it wasn’t an easy start. His passion was pushing him forward to leather craft, but as iron sharpens iron, the old mentor would try to discourage him. Finally, the old man asked him a question which was, “what is your goal in leatherwork?”
“At that age, I wanted to tell him I had a goal, but of course I didn’t really have a goal,” Hannig said. “I was about nine or 10 at the time and was in elementary school.”
Most likely another reason that he wasn’t taken seriously by the older gentleman.
“I think the first high school project that I made was a holster for one of my friends,” he said. “He asked how much I wanted for it, and I told him $40. He went quickly and got me cash. That was when I knew I wanted it to be a business.”
Hannig never did finish high school, but put his focus into his leather business.
“When I knew there was money in this, I was still in those classes at Tandy,” he said. “And I was still taking advice from the same grumpy old man. Once he found out I was making money with it, he encouraged me to go on and continue and to start building stuff out of scraps.”
The creating of saddles and the desire to do make boots came later, but as his business grew, he expanded his horizon and began to see all the possibilities and projects he could do.
“I can remember my shop was still in my aunt’s house,” he said. “It was in my room just underneath her bedroom. The ruckus I caused in that room just by pounding on leather and blaring my music, I’m surprised she didn’t kick me out sooner than she did.”
Hannig has grown in his trade and his craft since those early years in his aunt’s basement, and he truly creates incredible works of leather art. In fact, anything that anyone needs done in leather, Hannig can most likely do it.
He used to hand stitch things when he first got started and now, he has graduated from a little Singer stitcher to industrial size stitchers that can help him in his dream of creating boots, making purses or even the saddles he makes.
An opening came up within Dan Brecht’s store, The Wandering Hermit and behind the toy store portion of the Hermit’s toys, you will hear pounding and music. Follow the sounds until you get to Hannig. His official address is 871 Gilchrist Street in downtown Wheatland and for custom orders or repairs, you can call 307-331-9464. You can also visit him at Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ericj.hannig.