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Noah Marion Quality Goods brings people home, proving art is not useless

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Noah Marion Photo by Jackie Young
Austin Photo Set: News_Ramona_Noah Marion_june 2012_1
Photo by Jackie Young
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Photo by Jackie Young
Austin Photo Set: News_Ramona_Noah Marion_june 2012_4
Photo by Jackie Young
Austin Photo Set: News_Ramona_Noah Marion_june 2012_5
Austin Photo Set: News_Ramona_Noah Marion_june 2012_1
Austin Photo Set: News_Ramona_Noah Marion_june 2012_2
Austin Photo Set: News_Ramona_Noah Marion_june 2012_4

On a recent afternoon, Noah Marion is hunched over one of his three worktables in his West Austin home studio. He’s just finished up a perfectly uniform stitch on a leather purse strap and, in doing so, made a new discovery.

Marion, a local leather work artist and entrepreneur, is constantly making new discoveries in his increasingly elevated work. Maybe that's because he’s completely self-taught and each day comes with its share of trail and error and lessons to be learned, or maybe it's because the man simply never stops working.

If he’s not in front of his drafting tables (which he custom made himself), he’s finding inspiration for work everywhere his eye alights. But whatever the reason, it doesn’t take long for this artisan to get the hang of things.

It was only seven years ago that Marion (whose personal mantra is “swift”) taught himself to sew, and by 2006 he had successfully launched his personal brand and online store, which specializes in unique veg-tanned leather products, ranging from personalized Macbook cases and wallets to handbags and custom pet leashes.

I watch him smile proudly to himself as he outlines the new stitch — the latest discovery he'd just stumbled upon— his hands as steady as a surgeon. He’s just realized that a small rectangular magnet will give him the uniformed, straight spacing he’s looking for when stitching the thin leather straps of his custom handbags.

 By showcasing craftsmanship with a specific functionality in addition to artistic beauty, Marion hopes to change the perception that art is useless. 

His personal brand of artistry is extremely detail-oriented in nature, but in addition to a formal education in ceramics at Tulane University, Marion’s background has included an inspiring “bootstrap method” of self-taught artistry. He has taught himself everything from ceramics (he started throwing pots at the age of 5) and interior design to wood and metal work.  

In the studio, he guides me through his immaculately organized and openly displayed arsenal of tools, most of which, he says, he uses on a daily basis. In a quick glance, I see a rotary cutter (“a fancy way to cut textiles,” he says when I inquire), various sizes of French-edge bevelers, a strap end punch to give his leather straps a smooth finish, a burnishing wheel and an arbor press.

Marion, born and raised in Austin, has always wanted to create beautiful things, and he says growing up in the capital city was a daily education about the inherent value in good, base ingredients, whether it was organic food or custom made furniture and has maintained an intense desire to create things that are built to last, things that are worth using and celebrating.

He believes everyone deserves a life curated with beauty and style, and that philosophy goes far beyond his personal product line. Marion believes in supporting the person — not the product — and that means creating a supportive, familial community of Austin artists and art lovers.

The user or consumer fulfills the ultimate design circle, he says, and people should get to know their local artists in order to determine where and how to buy their work. That’s why Marion, along with his business partner, Alejandro Ramirez Falla, art director at Latinworks, decided to open House Gallery, which just had its grand opening this spring. 

In addition to individual showcases of local artwork, each House Gallery artist will produce an affordable product (around $25/each) to sell to the general public who might not necessarily be able to afford a larger gallery piece or installation. They will also teach an educational DIY program, focusing on the field and medium they specialize in.

By showcasing craftsmanship with a specific functionality in addition to artistic beauty, Marion hopes to change the perception that art is useless. He wants to steer people back to the idea that craftsmanship is something to be cherished.

“The idea of bringing people ‘back to the house’ is essentially our mission with the gallery,” Marion says. “It’s about paying attention to what you surrounding yourself with. Your ‘home’—whether it’s your self, your house, your car—it’s about paying attention to your home in a healthy, socially conscious way.”

He’s been making me a small ring for me while we chat about the gallery, and I lean closer as he applies the finishing touches. A coat of a water-based Eco Flo product and a small copper rivet to hold the burnished leather together. (“It’s the strongest fastening system known to man,” Marion says.) After awhile, the leather, along with the copper, will begin to soften, patina slightly and change colors.

It will evolve from a new possession into a distinctly personable extension of yourself, one that Marion hopes will last his customers two lifetimes, so one day, years from now, it might wind up in a family’s attic where a curious kid might discover it and climb back downstairs to ask his grandparents if he can have it. 

The veg-tanning method allows for a lovely, all natural wear and tear, unique to each user and their daily lives. “See?” he says as he inspects the ring’s edges one last time. “It’s not exactly perfect,” Marion says. “But it’s perfectly yours.”

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Find Marion’s designs online, at local boutique Parts & Labour, and at the upcoming Art of Re-Use, (date TBA) pop-up shop in Austin.