Tressa Brown

Hides + Brains = Moccasins

I work at the Kentucky Heritage Council but at LAW, I do the hide tanning demonstration. I have been demonstrating at Gladie for over five years.


I learned how to tan hides as an outgrowth of my interest in American Indian beadwork. I became interested in all things Indian when I was 7 or 8 years old and began trying my hand at some of the traditional decorative arts, but was really caught by the beadwork. I taught myself the basic techniques after reading a few books. I did beadwork first on cloth, but then wanted to try some on leather. I found that got expensive pretty quick. Both my Dad and my brother hunted and my Dad knew a taxidermist and introduced me. I got my first deer hide and, again after reading some “how-to” books, tried it. That was about 30 years ago. I have gotten better and learned from other tanners but my basic skills are self-taught. Now I can produce my own material for moccasins, bags, clothes and, of course, for beadwork.

At LAW 2009, I demonstrate how a cleaned deer hide is stretched in a wooden frame.

Kentucky archaeology, Woodland Indians, primitive technology, Native American, American Indian, native technology

At LAW 2012, I demonstrate how to remove hair from the hide, using stone tools prehistoric tanners would have used.

LAW, and the few other events where I demonstrate, provide me an opportunity to connect with students and the public, and to talk about the skills used by so many so long ago. To me, it is important to pass along the information so that maybe someone will get hooked and learn the skills that might lead them to pass it on. They, at least, won’t have to rely totally on books!


I enjoy doing demonstrations, especially hide tanning, because it is not something folks see at most events. Many people have read about tanning, but have never had the opportunity to see it done or participate. I think it is important to provide anyone who has an interest with that opportunity. Also, it’s important for people to understand that what our ancestors (everyone’s ancestors tanned hides) were able to produce with their natural resources and their own ingenuity, set the stage for all the technology to come. They were just regular folks doing their jobs!