The Leatherman (c. 1839–1889 (aged 49–50)) was a vagabond famous for his handmade leather suit of clothes who travelled through the north-eastern United States on a regular circuit between the Connecticut River and the Hudson River from roughly 1857 to 1889, sleeping rough in forests and various caves.
His identity and origin are unknown as he refused to discuss his past. He rarely spoke, and communicated using grunts and gestures. He was thought to be French-Canadian because of his fluency in the French Language, his "broken English", and the French-language prayer book found on his person after his death. Diagnosed at one time as sane but with emotional problems, he walked a repeating 365-mile (587 km) route year after year, which took him through certain towns in western Connecticut and eastern New York, returning to each town every 34–36 days.
I was immediately fascinated by the story of the Leatherman and his need for routine. Same route, same amount of miles a day, same stop-off points. He was his own calendar, caught in a continuous cycle of walking around Connecticut and New York State. Who knows what his thoughts were as he wandered. What was he walking from? The fact that his route covered 365 miles, same as the amount of days in a year, following a circular route, makes me think of him as being like a tiny human clock hand going around the clock face of an incredibly beautiful yet extremely harsh landscape. On a perpetual journey to escape his emotions and past.
The world changed around him, year after year, as he walked those same paths through all kinds of weather, even whilst struggling with cancer of the mouth from his use of tobacco, yet he walked just the same. On and on until he could walk no more, then died alone in a desolate cave, known yet unknown.
I have no idea why he lived the way he did, his reasons for avoiding society, but reading his story, what there is of it, and knowing how it is to walk around with your head down trying to ignore people, the real world and what goes on in it, he's become a metaphor in my mind for getting stuck in a rut. Ignoring things. Trying to forget.
Break unhealthy mental habits and deadly routine - before they break you. Before you know it, it's too late and all you've done is go round in circles seeing the same old views from the same old perspectives.
Note for MAW judging panel - Should I be shortlisted for this exhibition I would like to expand on the Leatherman's route, with an illustrated map/calendar referencing the timescale and regularity of his movements.