Val & Bill Norrington are professional leather workers who established their first studio in North Wales, United Kingdom, in 1972. Val was born in Wrexham, Wales and was a graduate of History at the University of Birmingham. In 1971 Val received a grant to pursue a further degree at the University of California, Berkeley. En route, she stopped off in Santa Barbara and met Bill, an American UCSB teaching assistant who was working on his Ph.D. in English. The marriage ceremony was performed on a Santa Barbara beach in 1972, and they eloped to North Wales and the world of crafts the same year.
Candles in the Rain was registered as their official business name in 1972 because – it sure rains in Wales! They worked with a variety of art/craft media for several years but ended up specializing in leather work from 1977 on.
While in Wales they supplied Heals and Liberty’s of London, exported to several countries, were the subject of a BBC television documentary, featured in leading UK fashion magazines and received various other honors for their complimentary leather work.
They represented the British Association of Designer Leather workers at the International “Leather works” conference in Adelaide, Australia in 1985.
In 1989, the Norringtons came full circle and moved back to Santa Barbara where they continue to challenge stereotypes concerning leather. Their latest work is primarily concerned with the sculptural nature of leather as a medium of artistic expression. Since 1983 they have been experimenting with “cuir bouilli,” Old French for “boiled leather,” a process of molding and hardening leather that dates back to the 13th century in terms of written references. The process was never spelled out, because medieval guilds were extremely secretive about their specific “recipes” but it seems to have involved the use of boiling water and/or oil, and it was used to make everything from leather armor and cannon barrels to plates and “bottles.”
Today, the technique is virtually unheard of, but Val and Bill have formed a step forward by going back to what “cuir bouilli” used to achieve by using old fashioned boiling water and a modern blowtorch, they cannot only mold the leather but can make it permanently hard as well.
All of their work is created in this manner, and each piece is “freeform,” meaning, each piece is individually molded by hand without the aid of a machine or prefabricated mold. And each piece is designed and made by them, alone. Their use of color is also unorthodox. They combine traditional leather stains with modern acrylic pigments, often overlaying the two, and they enjoy experimenting with new color products.
Each piece is also given four coats of clear acrylic finish that is both water resistant and non-toxic (their bowls are ideal for anything from candy and crackers to potpourri and peanuts, their coasters will not be affected by water, and their wall pieces and garlands are easily cleaned with a damp cloth and/or vacuum cleaner). The leather they use is top grain, natural cowhide that is processed from what would otherwise be a waste product of the beef industry. They only use American leather, and they pay top dollar for premium hides because they know that quality materials translate into quality products.