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Where Craft Becomes Art

Time-honored craft and unmatched functionality are the hallmarks of the Traditional Cowboys Arts Association.

BY MICHAEL J. NICOLA, NATIONAL COWBOY & WESTERN HERITAGE MUSEUM BOARD OF DIRECTORS MEMBER

PHOTOGRAPHY BY NADINE LEVIN

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A close-up view of John Willemsma’s saddle below Lorna Dillon’s painting After the Rainnext to Terri Kelly Moyers’ large painting As the Sun Sets in the West.

The author, playwright and critic Anthony Burgess once said, ” Art begins with craft and there is no art until the craft has been mastered. ”

Since men like Russell and Remington started coming West, over 150 years ago, they have used paint and clay to capture the life of the North American cowboy and his surroundings. However, at the same time in the shadows was another breed of artists: the saddle maker, rawhide braider, silversmith and bit and spur maker. This work was rarely recognized by anyone other than the working cowboy as a work of art.

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Inside the Levin Collection in Maryland: The first two saddles, from left, are by Cary Schwarz, followed by pieces from Pedro Pedrini and Dale Harwood on the other side of the table. Above the table is a pair of Bohlin chaps embellished with wood-burned pictures by Joe De Young, flanked by De Young watercolors, an untitled mounted vaquero on the left and Lone Cowboy on the right. The pencil drawing on the far right is Cowboy Bling and Piggin Strings by Roger Archibald. The rifle is a Sharps 1874 Carbine.

The pieces that are in the annual Traditional Cowboys Arts Association show are examples of both craft and art. Each work is a brilliantly made, one of a kind tool of the cowboy’s trade, expertly engineered for unmatched functionality. But each piece also represents, for its maker, an artistic journey, one that begins, as all such journeys do, with inspiration; that spontaneous recognition of a story that needs telling.

For the artists of the TCAA, that story is drawn from a wide range of influences and sources of inspiration: their own experiences as working cowboys, making a living on horseback; the work of the saddle makers, rawhide braiders, silversmiths and bit and spur makers who have come before them. But they are also guided by classical architecture, sculpture, graphic design and Old World craftsmanship that were imported to the North American frontier.

The story then unfolds over hundreds of hours at a drawing board and in the workshop. As the creative puzzles of design, architecture and narrative are solved, ideas are brought to life through the meticulous carvings, engravings and sculpting of leather and metal. At the journey’s end, raw materials are given life and are transformed into an original product, to be interpreted, to be pondered, to be appreciated not just for its functionality, but also for its beauty and A close-up view of John Willemsma’s saddle below Lorna Dillon’s painting After the Rainnext to Terri Kelly Moyers’ large painting As the Sun Sets in the West. its meaning. Those raw materials have been transformed into an exceptional class of work — that of functional art.

Members of this group also draw from a shared values system, one that emphasizes honoring the traditions of the West while reflecting our contemporary world. A world that dictates that standards in these disciplines be continually raised and that knowledge, once carefully guarded, be brought into the open and shared freely with peers and protégés alike. Finally, the most important value of all: preserving these precious arts that were once no more than a single generation away from being lost, pushed aside forever by mass production of inferior but widely available work.

This ethos demands of a devotee an unmatched understanding of his or her discipline, its tools, its techniques and its correct function, as well as a never-ending commitment to education and self improvement. That’s the foundation — that’s the craft.

But the creative expression through the media of leather and metal, the making of statements and sharing of narratives through the finest examples of working saddles, bits, spurs, rawhide and silver — that’s art!

Eighteen years ago, a small group of the West’s leading saddle makers, silversmiths, rawhide braiders and bit and spur makers recognized a fourfold crisis: First, there was an aging class of master artists in these disciplines; second, a shortage of newcomers entering these fields; third, there were fewer and fewer opportunities for apprentices to find willing, qualified mentors; and finally, the ongoing threat to these traditional arts posed by mass production.

In response, these artists joined together in 1998 to form the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association, with the idea of preserving the time-honored art of the West; continually elevating the standards for craftsmanship within these disciplines and creating accessible educational programs for students. Two men shared that vision, the late Ken Townsend, who at the time was the executive director of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Don Reeves, the Curator for Cowboy Culture at the museum. In sharing that vision they provided the venue to showcase this art not only to the West but to the rest of the world. Thankfully the board of directors at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum continue to support the TCAA by providing the stage for their annual sale and exhibit.

The Native American sculpture is a William Demuth zinc cigar store Indian named Captain Jack, and he is listed in Zinc Sculptures in America. On the wall are gold Herman Heiser wooly chaps. Next to them are Mehl Lawson rawhide reins. To the right are two Steve Devenyns paintings, Headin For the Outer Circle on top and Ridin for the Brand beneath it. The large painting is As the Sun Sets in the West by Terri Kelly Moyers, and to the right of it is After the Rain by Lorna Dillon. That saddle on the far right is by John Willemsma.

The Native American sculpture is a William Demuth zinc cigar store Indian named Captain Jack, and he is listed in Zinc Sculptures in America. On the wall are gold Herman Heiser wooly chaps. Next to them are Mehl Lawson rawhide reins. To the right are two Steve Devenyns paintings, Headin For the Outer Circle on top and Ridin for the Brand beneath
it. The large painting is As the Sun Sets in the West by Terri Kelly Moyers, and to the right of it is After the Rain by Lorna Dillon. That saddle on the far right is by John Willemsma.

Since those first informal discussions, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum has hosted 17 TCAA shows, which have featured works valued in excess of $8 million. Each year, the artists of the TCAA raise the standards of quality and creativity in their disciplines. They don’t just ” push the envelope;& ” they reinvent these traditional Western arts. Through innovation and unmatched creativity they breathe new life into the age-old media of leather and metal.

More importantly, each year’s show has served to inspire other craftsmen, men and The quirts on the facing wall are by Leland Hensley, on the left, and Pablo Lozano. The saddle is an antique silver-mounted Charro saddle, circa 1900, that belonged to John Hampton. The paintings above the saddle are Xiang Zhang’s Our Hill Country on the left next to Mikel Donahue’s Minor Adjustments with Jim Rey’s His Prized Possessions below. Above the door is a Winchester ’73. women who see what is possible in their disciplines and find in these works of art the motivation to elevate their own work and in turn become artists themselves.

The TCAA’s mission though, is centered on the preservation of these arts through education. Each member of the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association offers one-on-one instruction in his respective field. To date, members have mentored over 300 students, ranging from novices to professionals with decades of experience. In addition the group holds two annual workshops at the Oklahoma museum. The TCAA has also created scholarship programs to help students cover costs. So far these programs have paid out nearly $100,000.

Like great painters and sculptors of the North American West, the members of the TCAA have a common thread: a desire to capture and preserve the culture of the cowboy and the West. These artists all start with an idea, an inspiration that leads them to pick up a pencil and start to sketch that idea out. Eventually that inspiration is brought to life through paint, leather, clay or metal, and becomes a beautiful work of art.

In the past 17 years it has become more and more common to find a set of Wilson Capron’s spurs displayed on a collector’s mantel next to a Martin Grelle painting or a Chuck Stormes saddle prominently displayed in a corporate board room. Simple functional craft has indeed become collectable art!

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Pablo Lozano – The Art of Rawhide by Domingo Hernandez

The award winning professional rawhide braider Pablo Lozano was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Lozano relates his success to the time spent during childhood in the family ranch in Tandil, and his inquisitive nature about Argentina’s cultural legacy.

Initially Lozano started creating small items such as bracelets and knife handles and selling them to friends. While he was building a reputation founded on solid work ethics, while perfecting techniques and constantly learning how to produce the highest quality rawhide gear. In 1985, Lozano began his career as a full-time rawhide braider.

The tradition of rawhide braiding has a long history in Argentina and continues to evolve uninterrupted through generations. Rawhide braiding can be traced to Spain’s first attempt to colonize South America when the Spanish settlers brought shiploads of livestock from Europe to the Pampas, a vast region with an abundance of pastures and an ideal climate for livestock production. With the proliferation of livestock emerged the need for the Gaucho, the horseman of the Pampas, a skillful individual in all rural activities.

Through the years the cattle ranches were built and proved to be productive establishments and as result the Gaucho handcrafted specialized gear to cope with the needs of the cattle industry by utilizing rawhide. This skills were safeguarded and hand down to future generations by word of mouth.

Don Luis Albero Flores by Daniel Sempe

Don Luis Albero Flores by Daniel Sempe

Lozano was always observant and eager to learn rawhide braiding from the hire hands in his family’s ranch. At the age of 15, he noticed that one of his schoolmates had started learning how to braid and the youngster informed Lozano he was receiving instruction from the late Don Luis Alberto Flores, who later became Lozano’s mentor. Moreover, Flores always encouraged Lozano to adhere to the tradition of excellence and to associate with likeminded people with high aspirations. Lozano regularly bounced ideas off and felt inspired by Flores, over time solidifying a lifelong relationship.

Lozano’s inquisitive nature and ranching background launched him into creating fine gear for discerning horsemen and their horses, to compete in national shows, where Lozano’s traditional rawhide braided gear gained popularity. Lozano enjoyed a gradual evolution into custom braid work orders consisting of one-of-a-kind headstalls, reins, bosals, hobbles, cinchas, and reatas to name a few items. Lozano’s traditional handmade masterpieces are recognized for its dependable use and unique beauty due to his command of numerous rawhide braiding techniques and creative talent, gained by a lifetime dedicated to his chosen profession.

Lozano believes that rawhide gear is made to be used and his philosophy is that preparation of the hides is critical to guarantee top quality goods. Also, highlights that is the hide that dictates its application and not the braider.

For Lozano it is a pre-requisite to start with quality hides for the best yield and cut no corners as the hides are being processed from their raw state to achieve the best possible rawhide. The goal is to handcraft the highest quality rawhide gear, because it’s an honor to continue the tradition by making the best goods. Traditions continue to evolve as one blends ancient techniques with creativity to handcraft one-of-a-kind pieces without compromising the function or durability, because as artist that will be one’s legacy.

Lozano has participated in trade shows and exhibits throughout Argentina and has received numerous awards for his traditional rawhide braiding since 1995, to include the best Braider of the Year 2007 in Argentina. Furthermore, Lozano has been recognized by the Academy of Western Artists (AWA) during their 20th Annual Will Rogers Awards, was selected Braider of the Year 2015.

Lozano’s skill, talent and knowledge has helped training and mentoring several aspiring braiders from his shop in Tandil. Also, has assisted braiders from Australia, Brazil, Germany, Uruguay and the United States during workshops. Braiders seek his advice and constructive criticism in Facebook, despite the idiomatic barriers. He starts his workshops by encouraging all participants to let him know what they would like to learn. And he encourages learning from someone who have already achieved success in the trade.

He believes in the concept of apprenticeships and has had several apprentices as a means to educate and identify those that possess the skill and dedication required to execute the precise braiding that becomes a work of art, in an effort to safeguard the cultural legacy for future generations.

Several of Lozano’s creations had been awarded “best of show” because his traditional rawhide showcases the skillful execution of numerous techniques, and excellence in craftsmanship.

In 2004, thanks to the support of friends and fellow braiders Leland Hensley, Nate Wald and Mike Beaver, and under the auspice of the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association (TCAA), was invited to participate in a braiding seminar at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum (NC&WHM) in Oklahoma City, OK. During the visit Lozano had the privilege to meet members of the TCAA present during the exhibit. He was impressed by their work, the member’s creativity, optimism and passion for the Western heritage.

Lozano was also impressed by the partnerships forged between the TCAA and the NC&WHM, and their goal to preserve and promote the Western heritage with a focus in bit & spur making, saddle making, silversmithing and rawhide braiding. The alliance has generated interest in these trades and the TCAA.

Upon return to Argentina Lozano started learning about the practical applications of the rawhide gear utilized by the Vaqueros and their influence in the Western heritage. Lozano credits friends Leland Hensley and Nate Wald for their assistance which helped him gained an understanding of the applications of the gear utilized by horsemen in the United States. Subsequently, in 2008 Lozano applied and became a member of the TCAA, the organization that has been committed to the critical mission of safeguarding the Western Heritage and traditional trades through education. Lozano believes that “every artist is a craftsman, however not all craftsmen are artist, they are separated by their creativity”. He added that all members of the TCAA are artist that deserve credit not only for the one-of-a-kind artwork they create for the annual exhibit but for their contributions to the industry. Also, their role as educators in furtherance of their chosen trade is commendable, this will be the TCAA and its member’s legacy!

Since 2009, when Lozano’s rawhide braid work was first exhibited in the TCAA show he has made an effort to create pieces in collaboration with fellow TCAA members, because he is passionate about rawhide braiding and proud to be a member of the TCAA. Lozano would like his legacy to be the advancement of rawhide braiding for the enjoyment of future generations.

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Thought Process In Designing

When designing a custom piece I go through a certain thought process, whether it is a piece of gear or any other project. It is important for me to have a general idea of what I want my project to look like when it is finished, but I also have to maintain a certain amount of flexibility to change if things do not meet my criteria.

When braiding gear my guidelines start with three simple questions.

  1. How will this feel or impact the horse?
  2. How will this feel to the rider?
  3. What does it look like?

In jewelry or other projects the questions are much the same.

  1. Will this function properly for the purpose it is being used?
  2. Does it feel good to wear or use?
  3. What does it look like?
 

I ask myself these questions throughout the making of each project in that specific order. I believe the order of these questions are very important.

A very simple example of this can be demonstrated in a recently made necklace. The pictures will show the beginning of the bolo style necklace with the bodies being braided. For this style of necklace I wanted two separate bodies but I wanted the part of the necklace that breaks over the neck to be a flatter braid instead of round. This allows the necklace to break over the shoulder and around the neck more naturally, causing the necklace to be more comfortable and lay better. The rounded ends will allow the main knot to slide better in order to adjust if needed.

I wanted this necklace to have the look of a set of braided reins so I added leather poppers to the ends of the bodies and started buildups for the small knots. Attention is paid to make sure that proportions are aesthetically pleasing and do not get so large that they throw the balance of the necklace off. Colors have been chosen prior to the start, but the actual patterns and amount will be determined by the size of the knot and what it will allow.

For the final knot, which will be the main focus of the necklace, I chose a shape that follows the same flow as the rest of the piece, but I also make sure that the shape allows it to have flat sides in order to fit closer to the person and lay flatter. This follows the same train of thought as the rest of the necklace. I do the same with the color pattern, I want to make sure that the shape and color pattern will make the eyes move in the way I want them to.

This is just a small example of the thought process that I go through while creating something that I want to be proud of. The time frame can vary for all these thoughts to come together, so rushing through the process usually ends in starting over. My hopes are that whoever ends up owning the piece will appreciate not only the piece itself, but the amount of thought that goes in to the making of it artistically and mechanically.

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35 Years A Silversmith

2016 marks my 35th year as a full time Western Silversmith. Over the next few months I will try and provide anyone interested a glimpse into not only my journey but also my passion and philosophies.

Some of the questions and statements I often hear are “How did you get started? You must come from a family of Artists! Was your Dad a silversmith? What school did you go to? And lastly “Where did you apprentice and who did you work for?” Lets start by getting some of the myths out of the way with a quick overview of my “Formal education” and “Influences”.

I come from a family of stockmen. These are people who work with their hands, not with paint brushes or gravers but rather fencing pliers, hammers or shovels. We had no Fine Art in our home or Great Handmade Gear, although both were always appreciated. It was my beautiful wife and life partner Leslie that encouraged me to become a Western Silversmith. It was my Great Grandfather Bert who stressed “The only time you should quite learning is when they are throwing dirt on you!” I also can still hear my Grandma Myrtle’s words ringing in my ears “Any job worth doing is worth doing to the best of your abilities!”

In the late 70’s I was welding, shoeing horses, and worked on the oil rigs, just doing what I could to survive. I came home one day and Leslie had a newspaper add about a continuing education course on beginning Silversmithing. The course was 3 hours a night, 2 nights a week for 10 weeks. Sign me up!

Hardy_Article_02To start with we worked on small jewellery items and I really enjoyed it! With Leslie’s encouragement I started buying tools and set up a little shop in our basement working nights and weekends. Soon I started attempting buckles and saddle silver. I quickly figured out the required materials were heavier, needed more heat along with different technics. Lastly I would have to learn how to engrave!!! Just to be clear this was well before the internet. I knew no one in the area that did this for a living, with the exception of a company that made it crystal clear they were not interested in helping me. My only influences came from magazines and books. There was even less information about engraving. I finally stumbled across a book by James B. Meck on the Art of Engraving. I found a man named Don Glaser who was making power assisted hand engraving machines called Graver-mister. I saved my money ordered one and I was officially Dangerous!

Hardy_Article_01In 1980 some clients introduced me to renowned saddle maker Chuck Stormes. He had some great Silversmiths as friends and started showing me some fantastic pieces along with critiquing my work when possible. I’m still not sure whether Chuck saw something in me or felt my shear desperation to learn but I will always be indebted to him.

I flipped things around in 1981 and started working on silver through the day and
doing my other jobs in the early mornings, nights and weekends. Chuck finally recommended that I go to Cliff Ketchum who occasionally helped beginner engravers. I contacted Cliff to set up a date. He charged $100.00 per day plus I had to buy him breakfast, lunch and dinner. In exchange I was able to stay in his little holiday trailer. We had enough money saved for me to go for five days. We only had one vehicle(doubted it would have made it there and back) so I took the Greyhound Express and arrived in Walla Walla, Washington two days later. It was a good five days and Cliff opened the door on some basics of engraving for me!

Chuck introduced me to Mark Drain’s work, which I thought was fantastic! I knew I wasn’t at a level that Mark would be interested in teaching me yet. In1985 Mark agreed to let me spend three days with him. The cost was $150 per day plus a plane ticket. We borrowed the money from Leslie’s Grandmother. Today I still feel it was some of the best money I ever spent, Mark lifted the veil for me! I loved Mark’s engraving, he pushed everything by hand (no power assist). He had no problem with power assist but felt they were slower and said everyone should learn by hand first then make the decision if they wanted to use power assist. We spent three glorious days hand engraving. I came home and for the next 30 years never used a power assist again. I went to Marks again in 1986 for 3 days. I can never thank Mark and Kathy enough for their kindness and they remain today our very good friends.

I was introduce to Alvin(Al) Pecetti in 1987. I believe Al was North Americas most influential Silversmith at the time. He invited me to spend a week with him, so of course I jumped at the chance. It turned out to be a life changing trip for me. Besides the shop and design knowledge Al shared with me, he gave me advice that I have followed and have believed in from that day on. At that point in my career in addition to silver work I also built bits and spurs thinking they were the same trade. One afternoon Al took me over to the great Bit and Spur maker Al Tietjen’s shop. We toured the shop then went into the house to visit over a glass of Crown Royal whiskey. During the visit the “Als” offered me some advice, In their view these were two separate trades each deserved the respect and dedication to be concentrated on fully. “Pick one, learn everything you can about it and honor it by taking it as far as you possibly can”! I picked Silversmithing and have heeded their advice ever since. I have not regretted it for one minute.
I was privileged to visit Al twice more over the next few years(5 days each time) and we grew to become good friends.

A few years ago I took a 4 day repousse class from Valentin Yotkov and recently took a 5 day course from ornamental Engraver Sam Alfona. We worked on design and techniques under a microscope, what a blast! During all this time I have and continue to read constantly about different Technics, Art, Design, Architecture, and Composition. I am interested in anything I feel will enhance my knowledge and help me become a better Silversmith and Engraver.

So folks that outlines my “formal” education. I have never apprenticed under anyone, I have no degrees and have never done piece work for anyone. I have only worked for two entities, my family and my clients.

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Progression of a Santa Barbara Bit

One of the most challenging things for an artist, I believe, is to be fresh with their creativity and keep it new and interesting to the viewer from one year to the next.  As TCAA members, we are required to create the three best pieces we have ever made each and every year.  This task can be daunting at times.  However, I had had this bit in my mind for years, well really shortly after I got started engraving I thought this technique would make a great piece.  The problem was I didn’t think I had the ability or the market for such and undertaking.  It wouldn’t be easy to execute and the time table would be extensive.

Sculpting, first of all, is anything but easy.  Thinking in dimensions is very difficult to me for some reason, but the challenge of creating a three dimensional leaf structure in the steel was very exciting!  The next part, inlaying silver beneath the upper surface of the steel, was a mystery.  Extra amounts of material would have to be removed requiring more time, more money. My age, or a lack of creditability seemed to be a problem.  Whether I was capable of creating a piece likes this or not was yet to be seen, but I certainly wasn’t confident that my market would accept me asking the price it would require to finish the job respectfully.  However, an opportunity presented itself with the CA’s having their 50th anniversary show.  Many new people would be coming and I thought it was time to jump off and see what I could do.

I wasn’t scared of the execution process.  Making mistakes doesn’t really bother me too much because in order to get better you have to get started.  The next one will be better for sure and the first one won’t be exactly how I have it envisioned probably, but no time better than the present to start the process, right?  The price and market thing, well I couldn’t wait forever.  The last couple of years were good and it was time to stretch everyone’s comfort zone, including my market’s.  The realization was I could very possibly not sell it, and that was ok.  Financially my business was wiling to take the risk.

My first step was to consider a canvas that provided me the space to make my statement.  I wanted large leaves and scrolls so that visual impact could happen from across the room or from across the pens if it gets in a horse’s mouth.  I didn’t want it being too small.  This would also prevent me from spending excessive amounts of time on microscopic details.  The time was already going to be uncomfortably large.  The Santa Barbara shank is one that has large amounts of tradition and history.  It also provides a canvas of size and elements of flow that lends itself to a very elegant design.  It seemed like a fit to me.

Shanks were decided and now came the mouthpiece.  The Santa Barbara shank is used with many different mouthpieces, so possibilities were great.  The presentation in a show is important, so I was thinking about something that matched the occasion.  I didn’t want a simple grazer but on the other hand I wasn’t really wanting to go as far as a spade.  Making something that folks can relate to is always a goal of mine as well.  People need to be able to relate their story to my work so that they can feel ownership in the piece, even if they have never been on a horse.  They need to feel like a part of the West when viewing the bit, a mouthpiece that was easy to look at, one that didn’t make them feel like a level of understanding was needed. With this all in mind the Barqueño gained my interest because I love to forge metal and it gave me an opportunity to play with this old skill.

During all this “thinking” that had been going on I had been drawing, a lot!  I used newsprint, which is a very cheap paper that allows me to sketch ideas.  I’ve got to get it clear in my head how I’m going to tell the story.  Getting something down on paper is the first step.  Each morning during my daily drawing time I would sketch an idea.  Things develop from one day to the next and I try to build from one day to the next using things I like and removing the ones I don’t.  As refinement happens I move to a higher quality paper that allows me to be more precise.  When I get a drawing that is comfortable I will scan this image into my computer.  AutoCad is used to make a technical drawing using the scanned drawing for reference to again refine the architecture of my bit.  If I don’t start with a good drawing then I have to correct in the next steps.  Each step is critical to get right so that the following process is easier.  A good drawing starts me off on the right foot.

At this point the foundation of my project has been laid.  Elements could evolve and develop as I work in the steel, but for the most part I had figured out what I was creating.  The nuts and bolts or brush strokes make the paper drawing a reality.  That part is a new topic for a another day!  I hope this little window into the creation of a major project was insightful.

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More Than Meets The Eye. Essay by RC Bean

Picture 196Back in 2006 I kept a journal on the making of the saddle I refer to as the Bronc saddle. The purpose was to show the many many different steps that such a project takes. It ended up being a BIG journal! So I thought that saddle was as good as any to talk about, besides I had more hair then and it was a lot darker.

A lot of time and thought goes into a project like this; the first is deciding what my theme is going to be. Then I have to decide what type of saddle would be most appropriate for that theme In 2013 I made a saddle titled the Will James,…. That was easy I started with the tree named after him, and made the shape of the saddle what Mr. James usually drew, which was a semi square skirted saddle with a metal horn, and ox bow stirrups. In ’06 I wanted to make a saddle with my favorite theme, the bucking horse. So if bucking horses are the main theme A swell fork saddle seemed natural So of course the “committee’ tree was used (also called an Association tree) Back in the early years of rodeo, bronc riders were showing up at rodeos with all kinds of crazy forks and finally it was decided some uniformity would be good, so a fork 14 inch wide was agreed up on. I’m pretty sure the early years they did have a horn, but they wouldn’t have had the big long fenders or a loop seat, like I designed but my main objective was to build a cool looking saddle that someone would want to display in their home or office….. I call it artistic license. After the style of tree has been decided I work on the decoration design. I really loaded up on this one even decorating the saddle strings, pretty darn busy, kind of like inside my head, but that’s another story by itself! Anyway I need to decide where on the saddle will I have my art work, how many figures will I have on it, do the figures have some color or do I stay with earth tones, What kind of floral design do I want and what type of flower do I want. Somebody just asked “Isn’t one the same as the other, But NO, they’re not. Most people know what the “Sheridan“style is but there are other styles too such as the Arizona, the California, The NorthWest style, In 2011 I made my Miles city saddle that had no stem flow at all just roses side by side, not sure if that falls into any category. Any way I went with one of my favorite flowers, a type of daisy that had a heavy stem flow, and where room allows I like to make the stem flow a continual loop, meaning if you follow the flow, it will meet up where you first started It can take quite a bit of time drawing the pattern out, then transferring it onto the leather, finally carving it and then adding a little color to help make the design POP The fun thing about leather work is there are a lot of options, only limited by our own imagination.

rc-panel

When people come to my shop to special order a custom saddle I often tell them that the two logical places to put art work is the back of the cantle and the top of the horn. Because where we ride a lot of the time is on trails, single file. So the only part of the saddle you see of the people riding with you is their cantle back. And the only part of the saddle that you see when you’re sitting in your saddle is the top of the horn, so the cantle back gets most of my designing time and effort when it comes to the actual art work. It sucks because the cantle back is shaped poorly for such work! First it’s not straight up and down, it’s slanted! Why is that a big deal, well just imagine viewing a nice painting if it were hung waist high, and you were viewing it from three feet away. Things get distorted. And then the cantle is curved away from the viewer, making for more distortion, something you have to design for I’ve found out the HARD way!!!!So, I drew up a cantle back design that was really different, three leather conchos that really stuck out. I accomplished this by first carving the conchos out of wood, mounting them to the cantle back and then fit my cantle back leather piece onto the tree, marked where the wood conchos were at so I could thin the leather in that spot down to like a 2-3 ounce, so off comes the cantle back to do the necessary skiving ( thinning) then I refitted the leather to the back of the cantle, making sure my thin spots were right at the edge of the wood conchos underneath, then I marked my borders, and then before taking it off again I made some marks at different spots all around the outside of the leather piece so that when I was all done carving it I could put it back onto the tree exactly like it was . Gosh I hope that makes sense. Needless to say there were a lot of steps, which means a lot of time. A good piece of Hermann Oak leather is a wonderful thing. It forms so well, compresses well, colors well; it is amazing what a person can do with it. For the person that wants to know, wood glue such as Titebond II works really well in forming the thin leather to the wood conchos. It doesn’t set up until your leather sets up, meaning as long as you keep the leather wet the glue doesn’t set until your done pushing and pulling it where you need it to be!

The hardest part of that saddle was the covering of the fork. On a nice round swell like a Bowman 12” even a 13 inch you can pull the leather down (bunch the excess up) and not have to put in a welt. (a seam) But if your using a good thick piece that will carve nicely on a 14” shaped like a committee there is no way. But welts are not attractive and ruin the flow of a nice floral design. Besides that they wear out, unless put in the right spot. Yes I know A saddle that never gets thrown over a horse doesn’t need to worry about wear and tear, but for an everyday saddle the welt should be put in the front of the swell not down the middle like we’ve all seen because they will wear out. Any way I chose to go welt less, and put in a “hidden” seam, which is nicely illustrated in one of Al Stolhmans books. To really hide the seam cut out the excessive leather in like a zig zag putting thought to how your floral pattern will work with the zig zagness you have drawn, I think the photo I have will help make some sense of this. Be aware, it is a real bastard of a job. Sewing the hidden stitch is easy when the two sides your sewing up are both the same length and lying flat, but your sewing in a bowl shape and one side is longer than the other, so you have to “ bunch” up the long side, adding to the painfulness . The photo shows the amount of leather that’s been removed (a lot).

I think some people look at our TCA projects and only see the price tags. They don’t see the million extra steps taken to make these projects super cool. Maybe now they’ll see there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Wait till you see this year’s saddle. Wow what a pain it’s going to be! :)

Best wishes, RC

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Capron Spur Making Workshop

2015-03-04 11.46.16Wilson Capron hosted a March 3-6. The class was attended by six students coming from California, New Mexico and Texas. Each student was able to complete a pair of spurs while learning metal finish and the steps taken to make a pair of spurs. Students were taught to use equipment like belt sanders, buffers, a band saw and files that are very important to the process. Five of the six students stayed at Wilson’s shop bunk house where his wife Katy served three meals a day. This was a great class where friendships were made that will make everyone a better craftsman.

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The TCAA Fellowship In Action

 

Beau Compton just finished 7 days of intensive – very intensive – training in my shop as part of his TCAA Fellowship. In that time we concentrated on design, die work, forming, fabrication, engraving and filigree along with this we had long discussions on pricing, business practices and continuing education. It was a very productive time.

At one point Beau commented to me that 5 years ago he didn’t know if he would ever get to meet Mark Drain or myself and now thanks to the TCAA Fellowship he has spent time in both our shops.

I personally want to thank Beau for being a focused student and for his dedication to Western Silversmithing.

I want to remind anyone interested in applying for the TCAA Fellowship Scholarship program please remember entries close April 1st and if you have applied before don’t hesitate to apply again. You are allowed and encouraged to apply multiple times.
For more information go to TCAA website or contact a TCAA member.

Scott Hardy

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Cutting a Path – Rawhide Braider Nate Wald

IMG_4629PH-BWStory and Photos by A.J. Mangum

When Nate Wald was a student at Bozeman’s Montana State University, he took a short road trip northwest on Interstate 90 to Three Forks Saddlery, one of the West’s key suppliers of handmade saddles and tack. Row after row of saddles occupied the store’s floor space. Bits, reins, cinches and other gear lined the walls. As Nate browsed the shop’s inventory, one piece stood out: a pair of braided rawhide reins.

Nate had grown up working on his family’s ranch outside Lodge Grass, Montana. The buckaroo influence on his working style had been nearly nonexistent. He used split reins and swell-fork saddles. There was no rawhide to be found in the tack room. In fact, Nate had never laid eyes on a set of rawhide reins until that visit to Three Forks. The work, though, with its intricacy and detail, fascinated him. Nate was a stockman, a ranch cowboy, a rough-stock rider. Craftwork—making something with his hands—had never interested him, until that moment. Standing in the store, handling that set of reins, he felt a compulsion to make such work himself.

A few months later, in the spring of 1989, Nate was a few credits shy of graduating from MSU, and had a job calving heifers on a ranch outside Bozeman. The work left time for other pursuits. When a heifer lost a calf, Nate harvested the hide and cut strings. Armed with Bruce Grant’s Encyclopedia of Rawhide & Leather Braiding, he began experimenting.

“I did everything wrong,” Nate recalls. “My strings were crude and I’d get the hides too wet.”

Still, his obsession remained unabated. After he graduated and returned home to work on his family’s ranch, Nate continued his experiments with braiding. The Bruce Grant book served as his sole source of instruction until a visit to Sheridan, Wyoming’s King’s Saddlery provided an introduction to braider Vince Donnelly’s work. As taken as he was with Donnelly’s braiding, Nate was equally impressed with the fact that a braider could earn a living in the craft.

Nate got in touch with Vince and arranged to trade a Charolais hide for a supply of Donnelly’s fine-cut, beveled strings. Equipped with superior raw material, expertly prepared, Nate was able to braid a set of reins that came close to fulfilling the ambition that had overtaken him that day at Three Forks.

The young braider made return trips to Sheridan to study Vince’s techniques, tools and working environment. Other influences appeared, almost by accident. Nate became acquainted with Montana braider Randy Rieman at a poetry gathering, and the veteran craftsman began providing feedback on Nate’s work. When Nate began studying the horsemanship of clinician Bryan Neubert, himself an accomplished braider, Neubert took an interest in Nate’s efforts with rawhide, and offered insight on specific techniques, as well as suggestions for more efficient approaches. Ed Dubeau of Billings, and iconic horseman Bill Dorrance, as renowned for his braiding as he was for his horse-handling, also offered wisdom and encouragement. Each exchange with a mentor strengthened Nate’s braiding vocabulary and his understanding of the craft’s fundamentals, preparing him for the next conversation.

The tools of the rawhide-braiding trade.

The tools of the rawhide-braiding trade.

“I’d done enough to have a few skills,” he explains. “From there, you can learn something a little more advanced, jump to the next level, and work with that for a time, developing your skills through repetition. Then someone helps you with even more advanced techniques and you jump again.”

Today, Nate is one of the West’s premier braiders. His work is sought after by working cowboys, competitive horsemen and collectors. A member of the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association since 2000, he’s also one of his craft’s most influential instructors, teaching seminars, hosting students at his Lodge Grass shop, and offering feedback and insight to countless aspiring braiders. That his own braiding career began with something as fragile as a moment’s inspiration, and was fostered through guidance found almost exclusively through accidental encounters, helps fuel Nate’s desire to teach. Rawhide braiding’s survival as a craft, he contends, requires creating opportunities for young craftsmen to find answers to their questions.

“When I began, workshops were unheard of, and it really was a dying craft,” Nate says. “It just wasn’t something many people were doing. It’s a good example of why TCAA formed in the first place, to create interest and to create educational opportunities.”

TCAA conducts rawhide-braiding workshops as part of its lineup of educational events, and each of the group’s members mentor students on a one-on-one basis. TCAA’s January 2014 Emerging Artists competition, hosted by Arizona’s High Noon Western Americana show, will focus on rawhide braiding, as well as bit and spur making.

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This bosal is a work in progress.

Wald softens the rawhide by rubbing it with a bone.
This bosal is a work in progress. Wald softens the rawhide by rubbing it with a bone.
“The discipline is stronger than it’s been in years,” Nate says. “There are a lot of young braiders working and getting good, and I get two or three emails every day from people asking how to get into it, and from braiders asking questions about how to progress.”

Helping aspiring braiders establish their priorities is arguably one of the most valuable roles a mentor can serve. Nate says braiders at every skill level should work with the best hides they can acquire; emphasize feel, balance and usability in their work; and strive to create straight, clean, uniform results. Such “finish” comes from repetition; newcomers to the craft, Nate adds, should embrace the idea of working for the sake of the work, and achieving incremental improvements over time.

“Once I started braiding, I never quit,” Nate says. “Braiders just have to work at it, not cut corners, and be particular enough in striving for that straightness and cleanliness that it becomes the way they work.”

Meanwhile, Nate’s own education and growth as a braider continues. He’s studied Argentine rawhide braiding—even traveling to South America to learn from master craftsmen—and has incorporated certain Argentine techniques into his work. Other influences are indirect: over the years, Nate’s worked with the likes of Neubert and Texas horseman Joe Wolter to refine his horsemanship and roping; continual advancement as a horseman and stockman, Nate says, has helped him improve his braiding.

“You learn more about why a piece works or why it doesn’t, and that’s important,” he explains. “You can look at your work, or another braider’s, and know how it will feel, how it will react, and whether or not it’s going to be functional.”

The intrigue surrounding rawhide can hold someone in its grip for a lifetime. A quarter-century after that initial exposure to braided rawhide, Nate still finds inspiration in the material, and still experiments with new techniques as he works to unravel the mysteries inherent to his craft.

“I could braid leather, I suppose, but I don’t care to,” he says. “There’s a feel and life to rawhide that no other material has. It’s like it’s still alive. It expands and contracts, like it wants to get back to the way it was. In braiding rawhide, you can capture that.”

This article originally appeared in Eclectic Horseman Magazine Issue No.71

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The TCAA Story

You’ve wondered what this whole TCAA deal is all about. Hear the story told by it’s members, filmed in Alberta this spring. Video by A.J. Mangum.