Meet Peg Larabell; craftswoman, bee enthusiast, inventor.
In the mid 1970’s, craving the satisfaction of working with her hands, Peg started a small custom leather-goods business in Neenah, Wisconsin. She began making belts, bags, shoes and boots. She relished finishing her leather goods with stains and oils similar to the ones she used when she helped her dad with woodworking projects. In addition to her small leather goods business, Peg began keeping bees. Fascinated with honey, honey comb, and bee culture, she was soon providing friends and family with an abundance of honey. She was also collecting a fair amount of beeswax, a by-product of honey extraction.
It was so cold and snowy during the winter of ‘78-‘79 that Peg says “deer left the woods and walked in the road.” While she repaired loggers’ leather gear she searched for a simple and non-toxic way to keep their boots and mitts dry in the harsh cold and wet of the north woods. In an old book on leathercraft she came across a reference to a paste made from a combination of Neatsfoot Oil (an oil extracted from the shin bones and feet of cattle) and Beeswax as a trusted method for conditioning and waterproofing leather.
Unfortunately, no recipe was listed.
Peg began experimenting with pure Neatsfoot Oil and the beeswax she had saved from her beekeeping days. After some trial and error she hit upon the perfect proportions. The result was an oil and wax paste that was easy to apply, non-toxic, and extremely effective in waterproofing footwear. It also created a beautiful patina on the undyed, natural, vegetable-tanned leather products she was making.
People loved her leather paste.
Soon she was making it for family, friends, and loggers in the area.
As the demands of life, marriage, and children mounted, Peg set aside leathercraft and beekeeping.
After about a dozen or so years, her love of craft prevailed. Peg apprenticed with a Madison cobbler and found her calling. Immersed in the world of shoes and leather care, she once again found herself in need of a waterproofing product. It needed to be easy to use and free of petroleum additives (which Peg now understood could break down the glue bond on many types of footwear).
She found nothing on the market that met her standards.
Peg began to produce her old leather paste again. She made it in small batches in her kitchen and packed it in silver tins. She printed the round labels on her home computer and cut out each one by hand.
She used the shoe paste in the shop and offered tins of it for sale. Customers loved it.