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The Most Basic Elements

ChuckStormes-2016-06I’ve often suggested to long-time, serious students of saddle making that a good mental exercise is to reduce a saddle to its most basic elements and either imagine or sketch what the result might look like.

The attached sketch is one that I made about twenty-five years ago as just such an exercise. The drawing and scribbled notes remained in an “idea file” until recently, when I decided to attempt to make this saddle as a 2016 TCA project.

The tree parts were milled, laminated and shaped from solid cherry. The fork and cantle are fastened to the bars with waterproof glue and wood screws- drilled, counterbored and plugged with cherry.

Although the saddle’s construction is quite simple, the fitting required some precision, including the “corona” which is pocketed in place on the front and rear bar tips.

The carving is a traditional California style mixed floral design which subtly grows a little larger, or bolder as it progresses downward from rigging to fender. The flowers used in the mixture were wild rose, California poppy, pansy, Mexican marigold, sego lily and water lily.

The rigging is Spanish -laced with rawhide, as is the rigging brace, under the fender.

The fenders are in one piece with  3 1/2” stirrup leathers, with lace adjustment just below the edge of the bar.

Scott Hardy’s hand-engraved sterling silver conches and inlaid 1 3/4” inlaid horn cap add a bright touch of class.

I hope this inspires others to create their own version of a minimalist, ultra-light saddle, and may they have as much fun with the design as I did.

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Why a miniature saddle?

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Cary working on the all-leather ground seat.

Pictured (click to enlarge): 1) Scott Hardy silver and gold horn cap. 2) Detail of the bronc figure in the dish of the cantle after the cantle binding has been sewn. 3) Saddle ready to ship.

Mike’s question caught me a little flat-footed. I was in the middle of my main TCAA project for this year…a half scale foral carved Wade. Behind the question lurked a hint of another question: “Why wouldn’t you make something that would, you know, be practical?”

I fumbled through the answer to Mike’s question with the standard reasons that I hoped would make sense to him…”Years ago saddle companies would have sales reps on the road with “salesman samples” that were half scale representatives of what was available to order. This year’s TCAA saddle would be a nod toward the heyday of the great saddle shops like Hamley’s, Visalia, Porter, etc.” All of the answers I came up with sort of danced around the fact that no one is going to throw this saddle on a horse and use it. For many, this just doesn’t “make sense”, or perhaps even, “It just ain’t right.”

But we live in a world full of natural and man-made beauty that is all designed to be appreciated. Consider why anyone would put silver on a bit, or use colored rawhide strings for the interweaves on a set of reins, or flowers on a saddle, or a silver buckle on a belt? It is because we like things that are attractive and interesting.

For those of us who love the West, there have never been more opportunities to celebrate the culture we hold dear. I remember a conversation with Jim, a local rancher years ago who described how he would stop for lunch, tie off his horse, and admire the fine floral carving on his custom made saddle as he ate. Those flowers were carefully designed and crafted for this moment with Jim in mind. Their beauty gave him another reason to celebrate his lifestyle. But there are many who love the West who are not horseback. These folks can enjoy the beauty of our Western Way of Life by being surrounded by its trappings. They can feel the texture of the leather, smell its earthiness, admire its beauty, and take pleasure in its meaning.

The short answer to Mike’s question is that this half scale Wade creates an opportunity to celebrate the West and Western Craftsmanship in yet another way. When you consider the smorgasbord of cultural offerings in our fast-paced world, and you watch our struggle to remain relevant within this context, it seems only wise to commemorate our history, recognize the present, and continue to lay ground work for tomorrow.

And that makes a lot of sense to me.

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A Saddlemaker’s Experience

Saddlemakers usually find their niche with one type of customer. There are reiners, cutters, cowboys, outfitters, buckaroos, cowpunchers, ropers, etc. that all have their specific needs for a saddle. The saddler often carves out a career doing work for the folks whom he can relate to and understand their respective needs. But I have always loved the variety and challenges from doing work for many different disciplines. Each of these disciplines bring different kinds of people and horses all having their own requirements and terminology unique to them. Years of experience dealing with these diverse factors made the challenges less overwhelming and feel more routine… “just another hard-to- fit horse or a funny exotic breed, a mule or a fancy bred quarter horse.”

After some 40 years it is easy to think you’ve seen it all.

But one day, the phone rang and someone asked if I could make a saddle for a donkey. At first, I thought someone was pulling a joke on me. But the joke ended when they told me that they were a few miles away and they would like to stop for a visit.

A very experienced rider can describe what he wants in a saddle faster than you can write it. But for others it’s a different story, and that was the case with this particular client. The lady and her donkey were desperate. She had tried many saddles for many years and had been turned down by saddlemakers from all over the country.

After trying a handful of saddle trees on the beast named Flash, (a halter and gymkhana champion) I realized the size of the problem. A few visits later with a tree in the wood, we finally had a decent fit and were able to talk about the leather work which was just as complicated as the tree work. None of the standard measurements fit. Everything had to be fitted to Flash. My many years of experience with a wide variety of equine animals and their owners had prepared me for the challenge.

Now the saddle is finished and the lady is happy but the challenge is not yet over. Breaching straps, a breast collar, a headstall, and a pommel bag need to be fabricated.

One very important small step is to stamp on the saddle what type of animal the saddle was designed for. Otherwise, a few years down the road, someone is going to saddle up a horse and really wonder about how well Pedro Pedrini’s saddles fit!

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Chalice and Paten

As a Western Silversmith for over 35 years I love to design and create buckles, horse and human Western Jewellery of all kinds. People that know me also understand that I believe being a Western Silversmith goes far beyond that and a large part of my mission is to portray the elegance of the West. That is why over the years I have created flower vases, wine boats, flasks, napkin rings, candle sticks, etc. So when Mike Nicola approached me about a Chalice and Paten I not only loved the thought of the challenge but the story.

Mike explained that a young man that worked on his place, doing everything from mowing grass to feeding horses as he went through school, was soon to be ordained as a Catholic Priest. Mike and the others in the Parish felt Sean would enjoy a Chalice and Paten that represented his Western roots.

As I set out to design I thought of the history and strength of the Catholic Faith, I thought of the dedication and commitment this young man was making and how these elements, Faith, Dedication and Commitment define the West itself.

The Chalice was built out of heavy 16 gauge Sterling Silver with the exception of the base which was created out of heavier 14 gauge Sterling Silver. The methods I employed were hand rolling, forming, spinning, sculpting, hand raising with hammers and of course soldering. Finished it weighed close to 3 pounds.
The Paten was hand raised with a series of hammers out of heavy 16 gauge Sterling Silver.

The decoration on both pieces involved sculpting Celtic Crosses and the Three Nails(likeness of horse shoe nails) and hand engraving both lettering and floral. It’s quite an experience to engrave latin lettering, there are so many different meaning in shape and direction of letters.

Not only did I have the honor to create these pieces but Mike invited me to the Ordination Service for Sean who is now know as Reverend Sean McCann. And although I am not a Catholic it was an incredible feeling to watch the Bishop Bless the Chalice and Paten ,throughout the service 40 Priests drank from the Chalice along with taking bread from the Paten.

The next day I watched as Reverend Sean McCann preform his first Mass, it was very satisfying to think he will use the pieces practically daily for his entire life as a Priest.

Later that day Mike, Chris and family hosted family and friends in a fantastic celebration at their home, can’t tell you how fun it was to see the new Priest that will return to the Vatican in 3 months step out of his car with his Robes topped off with a Cowboy Hat!!!

At one point I happened to walk into the room the Chalice and Paten were displayed, there were 7 Priests discussing the Latin engraved on the Chalice, man am I glad I didn’t make a mistake!

I want to Thank Mike and Chris Nicola for their friendship and having the faith in me to create these pieces along with Reverend Sean McCann, the McCann family and the entire Parish for allowing me to be part of this. I will honor and cherish this the rest of my life.

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TCAA Mom’s Scholarship

The TCAA is pleased to announce the creation of a new MOM’S Scholarship in the amount of $1000.00 to be used to help defer expenses associated with the recipient’s tuition and travel when studying with a TCAA member. The MOM’s Scholarship is to be awarded to a woman seeking to improve her skills in one of the 4 TCAA Disciplines of Rawhide Braiding, Silver Smithing, Bit and Spur Making, and Saddle Making. The individual applying must have as a primary goal working full time in one of the 4 listed disciplines if not already so engaged. Prospective applicants may apply with a short bio and a minimum of 4 pictures of their BEST work. Each applicant must show a dedication to improving their skills in the chosen discipline and their goals must be aligned with those of the TCAA as evidenced in the TCAA Mission Statement.

TCAA Saddelmaker John Willemsma created the Mom’s scholarship to honor his mother Mrs. Tena Willemsma. A women who is and will be remembered for her ability to inspire others while living an exemplary life with strength and grace.

Tena Willemsma immigrated to the United States in 1956 from Holland. She raised 6 children and worked hard to receive her GED at age 52. Two years later she concluded her education and received her certification as an LPN. For the next 20 years Tena worked nights as a registered nurse, finally retiring at the age of 74.

Tena Willemsma a strong and determined woman demonstrated tenacity, strength of character, and unwavering dedication to her family and her work. John along with the TCAA continue to believe that these qualities are as essential today as they were 50 or 100 years ago. The TCAA is very grateful to the Willemsma’s for sharing the empowering story of their mother, while providing the resources to promote and encourage a craftswoman to develop and improve in her chosen trade.

Mom’s Scholarship applications will open
July 1st and close September 15th 2017

Send photos and bio to:
John Willemsma 
535 Airway Dr
Westcliffe, Colorado 81252
405 282-5336

Mom’s Scholarship Recipients

2016 – Rawhide Braider, Justine Nelson
2015 – Saddle Maker, Anna Severe

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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.