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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.


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.


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


Anna Severe – Mom’s Scholarship Recipient


A few snippets about this year’s Mom’s Scholarship we promised you! Anna Severe was the recipient and here’s a few quotes and pic we wanted to share.

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.


From Saddlemaker Cary Schwarz: Anna Severe was a delight to have in my class recently. She is an outstanding student a great person as well. I’ve taught many folks over the last 13 years, and she ranks near the top as far as her willingness and effort to absorb information. I am looking forward to watching her development as an artist and a craftsman. I’ll be staying in touch with her as time goes by to see what else I can do to help her along the way.

Anna had expressed her desire to learn more:

FB_IMG_1446817951484I feel I have been stuck in a rut when it comes to my saddle making. This scholarship I am hoping will help me with the small things which will effect the quality and function my saddles. I am also looking forward to having some help with my tooling to make my flowers and pattern flows smoothly. Thanks so much for this opportunity.

And the results? 

Thanks so much for this opportunity to work with Cary. I have learned more than I could of ever thought. My notes are over 50 pages and over 500 pictures. Cary has given me an awesome vision on how to make my saddles clean, and functional. I am looking forward to building a saddle using what he has taught me. I will send you more pictures after I get the saddle done. Feel free to do whatever you would like with these pictures and if you want more I have lots. Thank you so much.


TCAA Fellowship 2014-15

Read More About Past Recipients Here: 2013 Fellowship | 2014-15 Fellowship

This Fall, the 2014-15 TCAA fellowship recipients Beau Compton (Silversmith) and Conley Walker (Saddlemaker) completed their year of studies in their respective disciplines.

Beau was able to spend several days of one on one time with both Scott Hardy and Mark Drain at their shops for valuable hands on instruction. Conley was able to travel and work with saddlemakers Chuck Stormes, Rick Bean, Pedro Pedrini and Troy West to hone his skills in various aspects of his chosen art.

Beau and Conley were each recognized during the banquet at the annual TCAA exhibition and sale this past October, and were presented a plaque signifying their accomplishment.


Conley with Pedro


Conley and Troy’s


Conley and Troy


Beau at Scott’s


Beau at Marks

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NCWHM Video: Scott Hardy

Welcome to Alberta, Canada! Listen in as Traditional Cowboy Arts Association (TCAA) founding member Scott Hardy tells us about the embodiment of the west that can be found in the art of saddle making, bit and spur making, silversmith and raw hide braiding.

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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.

2015-03-04 10.53.21

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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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Bridle Bit Form, Function and Fabrication

We had a great week at the  2015 TCAA Bridle Bit Form, Function and Fabrication seminar held at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in OKC. A group of very enthusiastic students was subjected to all the information we could cram into 3-1/2 days.

Greg Darnall started, and rightly so at the beginning with the anatomy of the horse and demonstrated different bridles explaining the purpose of their designs.

Ernie Marsh followed that with a slide presentation and discussion of building a spade bit from scratch start to finish as well as some examples of silver inlay.

Wilson Capron did a bit making presentation  demonstrating silver floral overlay, and a live demonstration on his techniques of hand forging  mouthpieces, hand engraving and finished up with a very informative business discussion.

Ernie said: “We all made some new friends and reconnected with others. I am pretty sure this week will give the attendees some direction in the business of making bridle bits and we are pretty excited to see the results in their future work.”

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2015 Emerging Artists’ Report

2015 Emerging Artist Competition

January 24-25, 2015 saw the 3rd annual Traditional Cowboy Arts Association Emerging Artist Competition held at Brian Lebel’s High Noon Sale & Auction in Mesa Arizona.

Each year the competition high-lights two of the Traditional trades, this year 9 Western Silversmiths along with 8 Saddlemakers participated. What a fantastic weekend of discussion on pieces and camaraderie!

The calibre of work produced by the makers certainly made the judges jobs difficult but in the end they had picked winners.

Photos courtesy of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

The silver portion was won by Braidie Butters of Delheart, Texas with a solid Sterling Silver functioning padlock, yes a lock! This would look fantastic on any ranch gate or coach trunk.

Darcy Kabatoff of Mission British Columbia won the saddle portion with a fully carved square skirt 3B Visalia style saddle. Standing looking at Darcy’s saddle it was tough not to want to cinch up and ride!

Thank You to the judges- Pedro Pedrini and John Willemsma for saddles, Scott Hardy and Mark Drain for Silversmiths, along with Wilson Capron for taking care of the TCAA information display.

But a very special Thank You for the TCAA Emerging Artist sponsors- 

Brian and Melissa Lebel
Alan and Nadine Levin
Greg Braddock

2016 will feature Bit & Spur Makers along with Rawhide Braiders. See you there!