Area Tanner Treats Hides the Old Ways

By Stan Federman
of the Oregonian Staff

CLACKAMAS-Using his hands and a fleshing knife, Angelo Sulleloglou can turn an animal skin into fur of beauty within a very short time.
   He is an Old World craftsman who specializes in tanning and dressing all types of animal pelts, including such unusual ones as bobcat, lynx, bear and Rex rabbit.  The latter's fur is often used to make teddy bears for the Christmas trade.
   Sylleloglou learned his trade as a tanner's apprentice when he was 13 in his native Greece.
   "Machines are scorned in Greece," he said.  "The true tanner works mainly with his hands in shaping and softening the pelt."
   He held up his own hands.  "See, they are very strong, very tough.  Very valuable," he said.
   The 42-year-old Sylleloglou came to the United States in 1976 and had his own tannery in Salt Lake City for more than 12 years.
   Last year, he opened Angelo's Custom Specialties, a small fur tanning and dressing plant at 15875 S.E. 114th Ave. (655-2886)
   Here, his customers send him animal skins and he makes them into whatever they ask for.  Buffalo, zebra and bear wall capes.  Sheepskin rugs, vests and auto covers.
   His most unusual order?  Belts and boots from a 16-foot-long python.
   His small but growing business also handles orders for major fur and leather manufacturers in the U.S. and Canada.  "We ship anywhere, including overseas," he said.
   Sylleloglou softens and stretches the pelt with his hands and scrapes any remaining bits of flesh and grease from it with a dull, curved fleshing knife.  The pelts are then dipped into solutions of salt, formic acid and aluminum sulfate for upwards of two weeks.
   Oil is then rubbed and pounded into the skins to give them a rich, glossy appearance.  Dyes are used to give similar furs uniform color.
   Sylleloglou's son, Andrew, 12, helps him in the tannery and has become very adept at working with the various pelts.
   "He's a better apprentice than I was," said his smiling father.  "Smarter, too.  He saved the money he earned this summer and bought a bicycle."
   In the front of the small tannery stands a table piled high with finished furs that range from bobcat and lynx to fox, beaver and rabbit.  Customers paw through them, often finding unusual furs for a variety of uses.
   Sylleloglou's entire philosophy in tanning is linked to quality.
   "There are no shortcuts," he said.  "To produce good fur is a time-consuming job."
   Then he laughed.  "Sometimes I think this country is not interested or used to quality.  People are more concerned with price."
   He tries to keep his own prices reasonable.  A single muskrat hide costs $4 to tan, a raccoon runs $20, bobcat or lynx, $25.  A deer cape costs $50 while an elk cape has a $100 price tag.
   Late fall and winter are the busiest months for Sylleloglou because animal furs are now at their heaviest and sleekest.  Trapping season will begin soon.  Last summer, he attended a summer rendezvous of trappers at Waldo Lake and expects to receive pelts from many of them this winter.
   He has many unusual requests to tan animal skins, but perhaps none stranger than one he received from a woman whose favorite horse had died.  She brought its skin to Sylleloglou, who did such a fine job of preserving it that she had a taxidermist reconstruct the animal.
   "It now sits in her home as a special memory," Sylleloglou said with a grin.

 

2011 by Angelo's Tannery.  All rights reserved.