Keeping Handmade Tradition Alive: Profile of James Maple

James Maple is a New Englander, born and raised in Mystic, CT. He’s a musician and maker of bespoke leather goods. Stetson paid James a visit to his shop, North Country Leather to catch up with the maker.

Photography by Maaike Bernstrom. Videography by Rich Ferri.

North Country Leather is a celebration of traditional design and bespoke leather goods. His work can be seen on country stars like Kacey Musgraves and Margo Price, and on display in the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, TN. Every piece is handmade and one of a kind. James offers ready-made goods or works with individuals to create something custom.

The Range 6X Cowboy Hat

James is self-taught and his interest in leather works started early on.

“My mom was always into antiques, she still is. As a kid, I loved going with her to antique markets and fairs, flea markets, and auctions, and I still do. The craftsmanship of an old box with dovetail joints, the creak of a rocking chair, and hand-carved detail in an antique headboard. I would occasionally find something from the west, an old saddle, or a pair of boots. I remember running my fingers over all of the cuts in the leather, the stamps, and stitches. That’s where it all began for me. 

It amazes me that people took that much time and pride in their work. They paid so much attention to quality and detail, doing it all by hand with simple tools. I think we’re all getting too quick to settle for lesser quality because we’re impatient. We are forgetting what it means to be American-made. To be hand-made. There is a community of people crafting beautiful things here. People are picking up trades of the past, learning, using old tools, and carrying on where other generations left off. 

If no ones gonna pass the torch, it’s up to us to pick it up and keep the flame from burning out. It’s a movement I’m proud to be a part of.”

Music also came to James at a young age. While country music was close to his heart, James first began playing in local punk rock bands. He held his interest in country music close for years.

The story of the 1930s Gibson guitar James plays is serendipitous. He first spotted it at Ludlow Guitar in NYC while on tour. The time was not right then but for 4 years he thought about it until it popped back up in an online search. After a little haggling, James made the drive back to NYC to bring his guitar home.

Photo of James paying a visit to local record shop, Mystic Disc. The store opened in 1983, with twenty feet of bins, 500 records, and a register donated by a vegetarian restaurant. It remains a cultural institution today.

James and girlfriend, Nicole Anderson took over the space of a local 30-year-old coffee shop that was a Mystic, CT staple for young artists and musicians in danger of disappearing. Together they’ve created a community that’s much more than coffee. They host events, James spins records from Mystic Disc, Nicole as an herbalist creates a variety of blends of herbal teas, they offer local merchant goods and welcome everyone. They named the outpost Lamplighter Trading Co.