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Larson's Leather started as hobby now offers custom leather work and cowboy gea

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 10/03/2012 10:11 AM

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SAUK RAPIDS, Minn. —Mark Larson appears to be the quintessential cowboy as he dons a cowboy hat and ties a bandana around his neck.

But it was while he was wearing a military uniform that Larson refined his leather craft hobby which is quickly becoming a business for the Sauk Rapids native.

Larson is a Marine veteran who joined the service following high school. He wanted to be on the Marine Corp's rodeo team. Although he hadn't grown up on a farm, Larson had helped on the dairy and grain farms operated by family members.

The military had other plans for him. He served on the presidential security guard and spent three years at Camp David during the Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan administrations.

Larson realized he needed something to do with his off-duty hours and recalled the leather crafts he enjoyed as a youth. He took a trip to the Tandy Leather Company and purchased a how-to book, leather crafting tools and leather. Over the course of his 11 and a half years of active duty, Larson refined his leatherwork skills.

He served mostly on the East Coast, but was deployed to Beirut, Lebanon, for a six-month tour.

Larson's leather tools were left behind whenever he was deployed, but his projects weren't out of mind. He often thought of the details to his projects and their designs wherever he was sent.

When he retired from active duty, Larson was a gunnery sergeant. He joined a Twin Cities reserve unit and served with its military police. While his travel was limited during his active duty years, he went with the reserves to Desert Storm, Japan, South Korea and Norway.

If someone wanted something, like a belt buckle or saddle bag, he'd make it, Larson said. Then, three years ago, he started getting more phone calls.

He'd joined several friends in supporting the Benton County 4-H program. The group purchased silver buckles for the county fair's top livestock exhibitors.

Larson explored how he could use his leather crafting talents for the exhibitors.

Larson decided to make a belt buckle out of leather. He made one for each species and one for the premier breeder honor. Each buckle had a picture of an animal. Whatever the animal, it was artfully drawn using leather crafting tools and paint. Larson, who likes to draw, sketched each one on the buckles, except for the goat, he said. No matter how hard he tried on that one, it was either too heavy in the front or too heavy on the back end. He tried to draw it again and again. His son, Spencer, took over the sketch and it's his design on the goat belt buckle.

After the county awards were presented, Larson's phone started ringing as more people began requesting his work. He did the same type of leather awards for Morrison County. Then Crow Wing and Todd County officials called.

Besides the leather belt buckle awards, Larson has also designed and made computer and cell phone covers, saddle bags, holsters, belts and covers for rifles. He made one such cover for his former Marine commanding officer, he said.

"I make just about anything," he said. "But the one thing I don't make is a saddle."

He doesn't have a big workroom to create his designs in.

Instead, Larson often works at his one-bedroom apartment on a tray table. His former in-laws, Lynn and Dar Geiss, offer space at their farm when he needs more room. The Geiss' also asked Larson to display his work at their farm when the family joined other cattle producers hosting the 2012 Minnesota State Cattlemen's Summer Tour.

A project can take him from three hours to 10 hours to complete, he said. Once he starts working, and gets in a "zone," he loses track of time.

When he is not working on a project, Larson will begin to doodle with his more than 70 stamping tools on scraps of leather, continuing the refine his skills and develop new designs.

For more information about Larson's Leather and and cowboy gear, contact him at (320) 333-3065 or