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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.

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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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Anna Severe – Mom’s Scholarship Recipient

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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.

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Conley with Pedro

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Conley and Troy’s

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Conley and Troy

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Beau at Scott’s

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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.

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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!

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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