Memorial Tribute

Remembering Fellow Member, Verlane Desgrange

Lest We Forget

Verlane Desgrange

1949 - December 2, 2007

Click Image to Enlarge
LC&SJ Mar/Apr 1994 Cover
used with permission of the LC&SJ

Click Image to Enlarge
Verlane by her workbench
University of Wyoming Art Museum 1993 exhibition
Saddlemaking in Wyoming
used with permission of
Adam Jahiel, photographer

Other links:

  • Goodbye Verlane
       via Photography by Ira Gardner
  • Ask Verlane Archives
       via Siegel of California

  • Cody Enterprise Newspaper - Obituary - Verlane Desgrange

    Verlane Desgrange, 58, a nationally acclaimed saddle maker and leather worker, died Dec. 2, 2007, at West Park Hospital from complications of cancer.

    A longtime resident of Cody, she came to Wyoming from Daytona Beach, Fla., in 1973 at age 24. She graduated with a B.A. in constructive design from Florida State University where she earned scholarships from the National Teachers' Association and Daughters of the American Revolution.

    In Wyoming she apprenticed to master Western saddle maker Cliff Ketchum of Ralston and former U.S. Cavalry saddler Hamp Brand, also of Ralston. In 1986 her growing interest in English equestrian equipment and dressage led her to Portland, Ore., where she continued her studies with Hans Biglazar.

    Verlane's interest in horses, leather work, saddles and all things equestrian started at an early age and shaped the path her career and interests would follow throughout her life. She loved Cody Country and enjoyed riding her tough little Arab gelding, Goblin, in the mountains and open country behind her home on the South Fork, as well as in the dressage ring.

    She ran the South Fork Saddle Shop, building saddles and making bridles, chaps, purses and all manner of tack for local residents and clients throughout the country.

    An exceptionally creative craftsperson, she won many awards for her work including the prestigious Al Stohlman Award for Lifetime Achievement in Leather Craft (2006), for which she received additional recognition from Sen. Mike Enzi and the Wyoming Arts Council. WAC also nominated her this spring for the Ford Foundation's USA Artists Award.

    Verlane presented at many folk art festivals throughout Wyoming. Annie Hatch, director of WAC's Traditional Arts Program, was working with Sharon Kahin and other Wyoming folklorists to nominate her for a National Heritage Award through the National Endowment for the Arts' Folk and Traditional Arts Program.

    Verlane took first place in the International Leathercraft Guild's Leather Carving Contest in 2007 and received local recognition as Best Artist in Leather at the Western Design Conference in 1998 for her creative interpretation of a 1918 lady's astride saddle which toured the state for the third Wyoming Biennial.

    Creating fresh interpretations of historical saddles and bridles was one of her passions as was her free-form floral leather carving which took the art of decorative leather design to a new level of artistry. Her work was featured in many prominent publications such as Southwest Art, Persimmon Hill, Western Horseman, Leather Crafters and Saddlers Journal, and the Crafts Report, as well as books such as Crafts in America (1992), Saddles, Bits and Spurs (1992) and Saddle Making in Wyoming (1993).

    In addition to work in saddlery and leather craft, Verlane had a significant career in teaching, starting with evening classes at Northwest College and culminating at Spokane Falls Community College in Washington where she resurrected the last formal school of saddle making in the country.

    A prolific writer of saddle making "how to" books for her students and other professionals, Verlane published numerous booklets on saddle making, leather work, leather care, saddle fitting and the ergonomics of accommodating rider to horse.

    Because of her extensive experience, Verlane was asked to serve as an expert witness in several court cases involving leather quality and equipment safety. She gave many saddle fitting clinics, workshops and seminars locally and as far away as California.

    A backbone of the Cody equestrian community, Verlane generously donated her time and expertise to the Heart Mountain Dressage Club, of which she was a founding member, and to Pony and 4-H clubs.

    At the time of her death she was working with 4-H groups in Spokane to develop leather working programs for middle and high school students.

    She was a founding member of the Northern Division of the Wyoming Arabian Horse Association and participated in the Pony Express ride from Cody to Livingston, Mont., to celebrate the opening of the new Depot Mueseum there.

    She will be greatly missed by her family and friends.

    Verlane is survived by her mother Vera Garis, sister Verlona Rogers and nephew Casey Rogers of Port Orange, Fla.

    Memorial Service: December 12, 2007, Christ Church Episcopal.

    In honor of her love of all animals, donations in Verlane's memory are welcome at the Humane Society of Park County.
       Mailing Address:
          Humane Society of Park County Wyoming
          PO Box 203
          Cody, WY 82414
          Phone: 307-587-5110

    We Remember Verlane Desgrange

    All at the IILG and the leather world as a whole,

    Indeed this is most saddening. She will be sorely missed. When we received word, it was with eyes not dry that I personally remembered the delightful and informative discussions always coated with hearty laughter. To be sure, she no doubt had many friends and acquaintances that share the same, fond memories and would like to remember her on the cover of the March/April 1994 issue of The Leather Crafters & Saddlers Journal. In her honor, it is our pleasure to send the image.

    On behalf of our entire organization our sincere condolences to all at the IILG who had the distinct pleasure of meeting Verlane, taking her workshops and most of all developing warm friendships whose memories shall last a lifetime.

    With kindest regards,

    David Reis
    The Leather Crafters & Saddlers Journal
    IILG Member

    We have lost a great person and a wealth of knowledge.

    - WC (Wayne Christensen)
    IILG Member

    My thoughts are with Verlane's Family. A truly sad loss to the world.

    - Dave Harrison
    IILG Member

    Am lost for words.

    - Opel Mok
    IILG Member

    What a great loss to the world. She will be greatly missed. The knowledge that she has passed on over the years will be one of her greatest legacies. I will be praying for her family.

    - Art Schwab
    IILG Member

    My thoughts and prayers are with her family.

    - Randy Cornelius
    IILG Member

    We have lost a very good friend.

    - Bob Ower
    IILG Member

    This is truly sad news.

    - Ron Ross
    IILG Member

    I never had the chance to meet Verlane but feel like I have lost a best friend. As we each stop to remember her and all that she did unselfishly for all of us we should also take time to think how significant each of the people in our lives who touch us are. Life is such a fragile thing and we are each, every day just hanging on by a thread of fate. Thank all of you for being such special, caring people. It is an honor to be associated with you. I am sure Verlane felt the same way.

    - Bill "Doc" Hayes
    IILG Member

    There's a gap in the guild. We'll miss her!

    - Bill McLennan
    IILG Member

    Yet another great leather artist and genuine person has left our mortal realm. Verlane will truly be missed not only by her family but her leather family as well.

    - Thom Keach
    IILG Co-Founder
    Past President
    Past Member Board of Directors

    I was hoping to meet Verlane on a trip to Wyoming next summer. I always read everything she posted here. It seems rare to have a great artist willing to freely share such knowledge. I am proud to be a part of a group in which she and others like her are so giving. Now I guess it's up to the rest of us to develop our skills the best we can. Then try to live up to the example she set and share with others.

    This is a loss that will be felt for a long time.

    - Richard Popham
    IILG Member

    I got to sit with Verlane during one of the barbeques that are so popular in Sheridan. I was nervous at first because I'm just one of the little guys in leather and she was one of the Greats. She treated me just like a family member and we talked leather for a couple of hours. The information and advise she provided on this forum was and is priceless. She will be truly missed.

    - Paul Brinegar
    IILG Member

    I first talked to Verlane several years ago. I was having trouble finding a stamp I needed to duplicate a pattern, and she had one that she used in a LCSJ article. She gave me the source, we talked for a good hour or so, and she asked me if I computered much. She suggested that I join the IILG, and that has lead to more groups and huge circle of friends, along with lightyears of improvement.

    The next spring we went to Sheridan, and did the Yellowstone/Teton trip before. We came back through Cody, and were doing the antique shop route deal after the Museum and Seidel's shop. We were in one antique shop that had a rotten old English saddle in it. It was leather, and the most interesting thing in there. Leather folk tend to gravitate to crap like that. A woman walks in and looks at too, and we struck up a conversation. Ends up she repairs English saddles but this one is miles past redemption, just moved from Washington back to Cody.... "Hello, Verlane". First time I met her face to face. Kind of like old home week. Since then, we have exchanged emails, conversations at Sheridan, and we were there when she won the Stohlman Award too. A lot of good friendships and lessons have come from that phone call a few years ago.

    - Bruce Johnson
    IILG Member

    We have lost an icon.

    - Rhonda Zinekl
    IILG Member

    It is indeed a very sad time. Our world has truly lost a great one. She was very sharing with her knowledge and helped all who asked. We should all be greatful that she shared so much with us instead of taking it with her. Her legacy will continue everytime you do something and look back on who showed you how to do it. I think this is indeed another lesson we can learn from her.

    - Luis Rayon
    IILG Member

    I don't know what to say about Verlane's sudden passing except She will be missed. I Would also like to express my condolences to her family.

    - Vic Finkel
    IILG Member

    they say the measure of a person is in the legacy and relationships they left behind.

    I'd say Verlane measured up to a giants status

    She left behind one hell of a legacy and touched many people, myself included, with her willingness to help and contribute to another persons knowledge

    she was a classy person and I am sorry to see her move on.....and I am sure those above will be sporting some wonderful horse leather from here on out

    safe travels Verlane

    - Steve Berner
    IILG Member

    Oh, she will be missed. Prayers and thoughts will be with her family. She helped so many of us.

    - Larry Bruhn
    IILG Member

    When will I learn! This is the 2nd time in just a short period, I was not able to meet someone before they passed. The really sad part is I had so many opportunites. I live in Cody just a few miles from her shop.

    The lesson here people, is never let an opportunity pass you by. I truly regret both of my missed opportunities to 2 very great people.

    God bless, Verlane. You are at peace now.

    - Karen Dunbar
    IILG Member

    I am so sad to see that Verlane has left us. She was such a help to this group over the past 4 years that I have been a member. In the summer of 2006 when I moved my family from Virginia to California, I stopped in Cody and met her and go some great leather tips. She spent 2 hours with me in her shop. And me, just a hobby type leather guy.

    Sorry to see her gone.

    - David Hoff
    IILG Member

    I don't believe there are many people out there she hasn't touched in some way.I know she had helped me more than once.

    May she be touched by angels. My prayers go out to Verlane and her family.

    - James Jenkins
    IILG Member

    A very sad loss and especially to this community that reaches the world over.

    - Jim Xuan
    IILG Member

    I've spent the day working on leather projects between bouts of getting awfully misty eyed.

    There have been too many final goodbyes in my life this year -- and now Verlane.

    It's a little overwhelming, to be honest.

    Some of Verlane's last posts were about how proud she was about the accomplishments and personal growth of her last student. She made sure to share her student's achievements with us fellow leather workers. Verlane could have waited to write about her student, but she didn't.

    At the time I thought that was a warm thing to do -- but today, in the wake of Verlane death, her thoughtfulness takes on new meaning for me.

    Don't wait until "tomorrow" or "later" or "sometime" to tell someone "I love you", "Thank you", or "I'm proud of you" or to give a warm hug, gentle touch, or friendly squeeze on the shoulder.

    - DeeAnna Weed
    IILG Member

    I cannot say how sad I am to hear that Verlane Disgrange has died! Like others have said Verlane was just a kind generous person! The best comments that anyone could say about any person are those that hundreds of people are and will be saying about Verlane! Good by kind & talented human!

    - Don Reece King
    IILG Member

    I was saddened to hear of Verlaine's hospitalization. Upon hearing of her passing, I am deeply saddened that the world has lost a helpful giving person, at the same time relieved that she is no longer suffering. My deepest sympathies to her family.

    - Dennis Mahoney
    IILG Member

    I must say I was stunned and deeply saddened to hear of Verlanes passing. I never got the opportunity to meet her but through this group and reading her emails I felt as if I had. My thoughts and prayers are with her family and this group, her leather family.

    Blessings to all

    - Karen Siems
    IILG Member

    I sat staring at the blinking cursor for quite a while trying to think of a way to put into words how it felt to hear of her passing. I never met her but always had the feeling that she cared about all of us enough to spend countless hours responding to our questions. As one who seldom posts but always reads everything posted here, I know that I, like those of you who knew her in person, will miss her very much.

    - Mike Benack
    IILG Member

    I am lost for words! I just know that I am much richer and wiser today for having known Verlane. God Bless.

    - Shirley Zanelli
    IILG Member

    Verlane was wellknown oversea from many leathercrafters, and it's a very big loss (une très grande perte)

    - Philippe Broc
    IILG Member

    I was saddened to read the message about Verlane's passing. I missed the opportunity to meet her when I was "home" last summer. We just didn't make it that far north that trip. I've benefited a lot from her answers to other people's questions and from the tips she's entered on the iilg website. As much as we will miss her, her family must be devastated at her loss. I hope they know how well respected she was and that we share their grief at her passing.

    - Raine (Cynthia Newsom)
    IILG Member

    That is a horrible thing to have happened to such a wonderful, giving person. I have learned a lot from her and Diane and I will miss her badly. I have had goose bumps for two days just thinking about this. Our hearts go out to her family.

    - Blaze (Michael Blaisdell)
    IILG Member

    I was fortunate enough to spend a little time with her on my last trip to the Sheridan Show. Although not well at that time, she could always smile, and this I will remember, along with her giving ways. Yes, she will be missed,

    - Peter Main
    IILG Member

    She will be missed by the leather craft community.

    - SkipJ

    I have only talked with Verlane on the phone when she was here in Florida visiting her family. I was hoping to meet her on her next trip down. She will be sorely missed by everyone.

    - Sandy Robbins
    IILG Member

    When I spoke to Verlane a few days before her death, she remarked to me how much she valued the IILG and she always loved getting emails from the members. One of her regrets at that time was that she could not answer any emails that had been sent to her while she was in the hospital. I am sure she will be greatly missed by all.

    - Cathy Schlim
    IILG Member

    I will miss her so much! She was a friend and mentor to me. I met her by email through Siegel's website as I was just starting out in tack repair. I asked so many questions, she told me I had to take some lessons. So, I spent a week at her apartment in Spokane, getting the best instruction in strap work I could have ever gotten. She came to my house in Florida when she was visiting her sister and taught me and my husband nearly every day for a week. Once you were her student, you were her student for life. I loved her.

    - Kathleen Hunter
    IILG Member

    I am in shock. Can't believe it.
    Saying a big prayer for a great lady.

    - Little John (lj)
    IILG Member

    I am deeply saddened by the passing of my friend, Verlane Desgrange. In an industry dominated by men, Verlane gained a reputation as one of the best leather artists in the world through her talent, knowledge and breadth of work. She was an amazing person. She had a generosity of spirit that is so rare to find. She was kind to all and shared her wealth of leather knowledge freely. Her gentleness, kindness and sense of humor will be missed by many. She left the world a better place. I will miss her.

    - Ann Waters
    IILG Member

    She will be missed and I hope to see her one day, the Lord willing.

    - Walter Jones
    IILG Member

    Verlanes passing has affected me greatly. When we would talk the ideas just kept sparking off of each other. One of my proudest possessions is my copy of her A Treasury Of English Saddlery Information with the inscription "For Jim who understands this stuff."

    Those we love are taken too soon from us.

    - Jim Kladder
    Journeyman Saddler
    Colonial Williamsburg

    I liked Verlaine a lot and have a pair of the most over-the-top saddlebags you have ever seen, that she made for me.

    - Adam Jahiel - Photographer
    Story, WY

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