Most people see a pop-up book and think of children’s stories. The late Richard Passey saw a pop-up book and saw potential for legitimate art.
Last week the Covey Center for the Arts opened a memorial exhibit featuring Passey’s work. The month-long exhibit features 25-30 pieces of Passey’s unique leather art, including some of his trademark 3-D pop-up books. All of Passey’s pieces were created using his handcrafted tools.
Passey was unable to buy tools for leather-working early on. He got creative and crafted more than 100 tools for his work, mostly from nails. He used these tools to make simple things such as purses and wallets, but moved on to make portraits, animal depictions and 3-D books over time. He is renowned for his ability to portray precise detail on a non-traditional medium.
“He is to me kind of a jack-of-all-kinds of art,” said Gaye Passey, Richard’s wife.
She said Passey began working with leather when he was young, but took a hiatus in order to tend to his occupation and family. After suffering a heart attack in his 50s, his family encouraged him to get back into his old hobby.
Annette Aldridge, Passey’s eldest daughter, never saw her father do leatherwork prior to his health issues. After his heart attack, he was unable to work. He decided to make his artwork an occupation. He began by making a piece for each of his children. His abilities came as a surprise to them.
“He treated it like a job,” Aldridge said. “We had no idea he was so skilled, so talented.”
Initially, Passey’s art was not accepted as art by museums and galleries. His work was artistic, but leather was the wrong medium. After having pieces displayed in a gallery in Springville, others started to reconsider. Passey has since been featured in LDS Church News and was inducted into the “Utah Artists Book” in 2006.
According to Deann Morin, the gallery coordinator for the Covey Center, Passey is the only leather artist to have work displayed there. Passey’s work has been at the gallery previously, but he never had an entire exhibit dedicated to his work. Morin praised his talent and creative ability.
“He’s just a pure artist,” she said. “He created just for the sake of creating.”