It is not that I do not value the rights of animals, or believe that our species for whatever reason has rights above those of other species. What I do believe is that by whatever stroke of fate or chance our species is by nature omnivorous, and that predators take and consume prey. I'm quite willing to eat meat, and I am quite willing to use the leather produced as a by-product of the meat industry in my artwork (generally speaking, leather, whether chrome-tawed or vegetable-tanned, is the sale of the non-meat portions of livestock that would otherwise be discarded as waste.)
It is not that I do not understand the nature of animal death. In fact, I probably understand it better than most in the urban society in which I live, where death (human and non-human animal) is hidden away and dealt with by most with reactions ranging from mere aversion to full horror, regardless of their activity or lack thereof in death-founded industries such as meat, fur, or life insurance. I am a hunter and have caused and dealt with death in great detail, utilizing meat, hide, bone, antler, tooth and sinew. I do understand. I acknowledge the direct and indirect blood on my hands. It has not reduced my respect for these animals, but rather enhanced it. Our notions of civilization have attempted to remove us from nature, but this species had a true place in it once, as we killed and were killed. Death is not evil, though it can be a cause for grief. Life and death are inextricably twined - life feeds on death, animal or vegetable, and death results from life. Whether you consider one being - any animal or vegetable species - more or less significant than another, or whether you consider one variety of death as more or less moral than another, is your own affair.
Regarding Animal-Free Alternatives
As a final note, I would like to indicate that there is a great deal of misinformation surrounding how to respect or serve nature. Though it may seem kinder to use animal-free products, such as synthetic PVC leather or other plastic non-animal materials in place of leather, the long-term costs outweigh the benefits. Remember that all life meets death at some point - any death may seem unnecessary, but what it really is is earlier than it might have been. Leather is a natural material (vegetable-tanned leather is hide treated with tannins from tree bark, some of the same organic compounds found in wine), and eventually, given enough time, moisture and plant, fungal, or bacterial life, it will rot away and compost. When PVC or other synthetic compounds degrade, the results tend to be toxic - not to mention all the toxic by-products of the original production. Further, leather tends to be more durable and last much longer than synthetic alternative materials, decreasing the number of new goods that need to be produced. Leather actually leaves a smaller ecological footprint - yes, an animal and a tree generally must die earlier than they might have for leather to be produced, but the havoc wrought by industrial wastes has poisoned the soil and the ecosystems, is usually impossible to dispose of*, and wears away at the upper atmosphere, encouraging global warming and further deterioration of the planet's ability to support life. Companies and organizations might say that synthetics are kind to animals, and many companies marketing such products do take admirable steps to reduce their environmental impact - but remember that they are also trying to sell their product to concerned people by assuaging their fears of harming nature. Take any advice to heart only following careful consideration of the source. And sincerely, thank you for your concern for our environment and for life itself.
* Our means of disposal usually consists of dumping, or of burial in steel drums under the earth - which eventually leak and pollute the environment. Hardly a sustainable solution.