When Chip Liebel was a young girl, she received a leather kit from Santa Claus and never put it down. “I did it through high school and college, even set up booths at the street fair and paid for a lot of my college,” she said.
After graduating with a degree in commercial art from BSC, Liebel traveled south and earned a degree in saddle making from Oklahoma State Tech. She then worked her way through Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas making saddles, chaps, chinks and other cowboy gear. “I did a lot of art work on (the pieces) to learn and to pay my way,” said Liebel. “Then I came back to North Dakota and started Interstate Western Works with my brother.”
She is somewhat self-taught, but has also taken a lot of classes. She has learned from Peter Main, an artist from Australia, Joe Barth from Arizona and many others. One of the courses was on a ship, and the artists were educated as they did a tour of Alaska. She now gives classes through Bismarck State College in the winter. She teaches three or four classes a session and people come out to her shop where she has a large table and the tools are readily available. “I teach three dimensional art and how to make feathers,” said Liebel. “I have taught eight year olds and seventy-eight year olds. I also teach 4H kids and judge for Burleigh County 4H.”
Liebel also does the painting on her leather works. She uses an airbrush and hand paints with acrylics. Some of her other artistic hobbies include photography, stained glass and violin. She also participates in the Quick Draw at Artists Celebrating Christ at the University of Mary in the spring. She, unfortunately, does not make saddles anymore. “Our retail business has kind of taken over my life,” she said. “It is just phenomenal.”
She finds the time to work in her studio at home, and does commissions for individuals and companies like Basin Electric and Mor Gran Sou. Her home is close enough to work that, depending on her mood, she can walk or ride – on a saddle she created, of course.
This Buffalo Spirit Shield was auctioned off at the Custer Stampede in 2012. The vision for this Buffalo Spirit shield came about while exploring the buttes and bluffs of the historic Voigt Ranch along the cannon ball river, bordering the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Chip has made many foot and horse back journeys through this timeless country capturing deer, antelope and buffalo on her sketch pad and camera. Many song and game birds along with the golden eagles, owls, and hawks were a special inspiration for this art piece. It took her about three weeks just to do the feathers. The Buffalo Spirit Shield is carved out of cow and deer hide, adorned with leather carved feathers, horse tail hair, buffalo hump fur, arrow heads and claws, creating a strikingly textured visual prairie art piece.