Professionally brain tanned bison robes - truly amazing pieces
Tanning hides is tough, demanding work. They are heavy - when "salted and wet" as much at 200 pounds, they are smelly and to do it "right" takes a whole bunch of time.
Virtually all of our hides come from the Moyle tannery in Heyburn Idaho. They do it right but they do it with large scale commercial equipment - tanning drums, mechanical fleshing, electrostatic cleaning. They use the most eco-friendly, human friendly tanning solution possible (no chrome or heavy metal) ... and they are beautiful. Still takes about 6-12 months from the time we send the green salted hides to them from our partner in Colorado.
There is something mystical about old school "brain" tanning of bison hides. Now we are adding Traditional Tanners of Ashford, Oregon ... and just a few of their "brain tanned" (and no, as explained below they no longer actually use bison brain in their tanning slurry) bison robes to our offerings. It was how so-called primative people kept skins from bacterial rot. Skin, bison and all other, will decay from bacteria unless "preserved" In people we call it embalming. In animal skins we call it "tanning"
From their website:
"Brain-tanning is not a strictly Native American art, but was practiced in many parts of the world throughout human history. For example, the Iceman from Italy wore brain-tanned skins. (“Der Mann aus dem Eis “by Angelika Flechinger and Hubert Steiner, also “Leather” by Lotha Rahme on European tanning tradition). Unlike modern day commercial tanning, brain-tanning is an environmentally safe way of tanning that does not use or produce any toxins"
Brain-tanning is also referred to as “fat liquoring” and actually, a variety of tanning mixtures can be used. It seems that native people mainly used a mixture of all or some of the following: brains, bone marrow, liver, soapweed (according to Geo. Bird Grinell) and grease.
Today we can substitute ingredients if we wish and use eggs, lecithin, soap, castor oil etc. Probably every modern and old-time tanner has his own recipe he uses. All these substances are involved in complicated chemical reactions within the skin and help transform it from rawhide into leather.
As with any brain-tanned product, the hide should be smoked. This process keeps it from becoming stiff should the robe get wet and will also help to keep dermis-eating bugs out of it.
It is because of this "traditional" methodoligy ... these are very special .... and very expensive. But what the heck, they are worth it.
And you want to get really crazy .... we've got a couple of great artists that will "paint" the backside with either traditional native American images (take a look at the book "Robes of Splendor") or whatever might fit your style. Call and we'll take about it