In the 1950s and 1960s, Philip Pellegrino, a talented craftsman and shoemaker, used scrap leather to create jewel-like miniature artworks representing objects and figures from everyday life, including hats, dogs, male figures, rings, pistols, pipes, airplanes, skeletons, and horse riders.
Pellegrino learned his craft in Montreal, in the 1930s, while serving as an apprentice to his uncle, a cobbler. After serving in the Canadian army during WWII, he visited a sister in Connecticut, where he finally settled, married, and opened a neighborhood shoe-repair shop. Fred and Joanne Siegmund—who later purchased his entire collection—reported Pellegrino saying: “While fixing a shoe, I would just get an idea, maybe that came from a television show or some magazine picture. I would decide that’s what I like, and I would make it my way.” Clients from the repair shop would see his artworks, but “nobody would spend a nickel. So, I got disgusted and put everything in boxes in the basement.” The trove remained in storage for over twenty years until he closed the shop and retired.
Pellegrino’s practice of “sculpting in leather” can be seen as a way of challenging himself while learning new ways of manipulating this material, but also as avenues to meditate on form and to classify elements from the physical world that surrounded him.