Jack Leadley Sr., a Staten Island native who became an expert on all things relating to the Adirondack Mountains, passed away Wednesday morning at his home in Speculator. He was 90.
After getting out of the U.S. Army, Leadley moved to Speculator with his mother. He worked as a plumber and in a local sawmill for a time but became well known as a writer, craftsman, artist and ski instructor. He was especially adept at making Adirondack pack baskets and rustic furniture.
“He came up to Speculator, fell in love with the mountains and the community up here, and we fell in love with him,” said Bill Weaver, whose wife, Anne, is the Lake Pleasant town historian. “Before my wife became historian, we didn’t have a lot of history going on up here, but when people were looking to give things away, they would give them to Jack. You would wonder, ‘Well, who’s going to care about this?’ but Jack did. Things that we didn’t want to lose, Jack would take care of. He loved this place.”
Leadley had a unique method of painting water colors on deer hide, framed by limbs and roots of Adirondack trees. He was the subject of a 1998 documentary film, “Inside the Blue Line: Leadley’s Legacy,” and one of his Adirondack chairs is part of the permanent display at the Bull Cottage at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. Leadley often did workshops at the museum, and many of his furniture and artwork remain there.
Leadley built himself a small log cabin behind his home on Route 30, where he spent much of his time working.
“He was a really nice guy, and I tried to stop and visit him whenever I could when he was still working,” said Jim Schreiner, who runs Great Sacandaga Designs in the town of Day. “He made pack baskets. He made one for me, and it was absolutely beautiful. He made great rustic furniture, and he did it all in the traditional way. He’d get black ash and then soak it and beat it and peel it. He made amazing things.”
Leadley was a prolific snowshoer who, for more than three decades, ran a trap line deep into the Adirondack wilderness to provide meals for his family during the winter months. He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Joan, and two children, a son, Rick, and a daughter, Lynn Blanchard, also of Speculator.
“There are too many wonderful memories to get into it,” said Rick. “We have a lifetime of memories.”
“He was an outdoorsman, a craftsman, an artist and a ski instructor,” said his daughter. “You name it, he did it. He was still making baskets and painting up until two years ago. He had a stroke about a year and a half ago, but up until then, he was still doing very well.”
Rick Leadley has taken over his father’s role as a maker of traditional rustic furniture, while his sister, Lynn, continues to make pack baskets as part of the family business.
“Jack was a hard worker, and he was willing to do anything to keep living up here because he loved it so much,” said Weaver. “He was a great painter, but he really educated himself at all the other things he did. And you would find him all over the community, doing what he could to help out. He’s somebody we’re really going to miss.”
Funeral arrangements are pending, and the family said a memorial service will be held later this spring.