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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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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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Cutting a Path – Rawhide Braider Nate Wald

IMG_4629PH-BWStory and Photos by A.J. Mangum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The tools of the rawhide-braiding trade.

The tools of the rawhide-braiding trade.

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

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

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

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

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This bosal is a work in progress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Details of Saddle Making with John Willemsma

JW-2014-SaddleWorkshop-07Thirteen years ago I had the great opportunity to attend a Traditional Cowboy Arts Asociation workshop at the NATIONAL COWBOY MUSEUM in Oklahoma City .. Fast forward to this past February and to the “Details of Saddle making ” workshop that I had the honor present as a member of The TCAA.

Eleven students from California to Wisconsin spent four days observing how to work on areas that give many saddlemakers issues , such as the proper way to cover a metal horn, fitting a swell cover on a saddle requiring a seam or welt and a Wade (slick fork),the proper steps to achieve a nice cantle shape (fitting your cantle back and cantle filler) and according to all in attendance.

Making clean cuts and fitting the “seat ears” at the base of the cantle binding for both a Cheyenne roll and a straight Bead style cantle.In the four day class two different styles of saddles were worked on .. A Wade and a Will James .. Giving everyone a wide range of ideas to improve upon their work.

The focus on the TRADITIONAL COWBOY ARTS ASSOC. fall workshop will be ..Saddle tree fit with TCAA member Chuck Stormes. Many thanks to all who attended and worked so hard to make the February work shop a success .

– John Willemsma TCAA

JW-2014-SaddleWorkshop-01 JW-2014-SaddleWorkshop-02 JW-2014-SaddleWorkshop-03 JW-2014-SaddleWorkshop-04 JW-2014-SaddleWorkshop-05 JW-2014-SaddleWorkshop-06Those attending the workshop

Cindy Abrams…Midway, TX
Craig Brown ..Stillwell, OK
Jim Kiss Modesto, CA
Jan Mark, Elbert, CO
Mike Monroe, Fletcher, OK
Ed Rodgers, Arena, WI
Jock Pollard, Cement, OK
Ken Raye, Zachary ,LA
Evan Rolland, Coalgate, OK
Jamie Sayre, Ventura, CA
T.A. Williams, Benton, KS

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From the workbench of rawhide braider Pablo Lozano

In this these photos below rawhide braider Pablo Lozano shares with us the project he is crafting for the 2013 Cowboy Crossings show. Skill and mastery aside, we hope you can see there is a lot of time and patience that goes into his craft to get the desired results.

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Marking the holes for stitching hobble

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Crafting holes

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Sewing the hobble

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Sewing the hobble

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Sewing the hobble

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Featured Artist: Wilson Capron

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Wilson Capron

Wilson’s love for the western way of life began as a young boy working along side his father and cowboy artist, Mike Capron, on ranches in west Texas. He loves to rope and in college Wilson took a job with Greg Darnall cutting out parts for bits and spurs to pay entry fees in ropings. At this point he did not have any desire to make bits and spurs until Greg asked if he’d like to try his hand at engraving. Wilson found that it was a whole lot of fun and began learning the trade.

He returned to west Texas in 1999 with 2 months worth of orders under his belt and from that point on he never caught up. In the beginning, bits and spurs were a way for Wilson to use his engraving. Today, his passion is not singled out to one area, all aspects from the design to the metal work are truly a joy to him.
In the beginning of Wilson’s career, people would call him an “artist”and he responded, “no thats my dad.” Now he welcomes that and considers his work and the work of his peers to be 3 dimensional art. WIlson looks forward to the day that gear maker’s will be known as working artists!
Wilson is passionate about the TCAA and continuing to educate the public on the art of bit and spur making. He is constantly making efforts to expand this knowledge by traveling to various shows and connect with the public through his website and Facebook.

Article by Katy Capron

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Featured Artist: Mike Beaver

Mike Beaver

Mike Beaver

The journey began for Mike Beaver in Buffalo Center, Iowa, where his parents farmed. Cattle was a big part of his life. More importantly were the team of draft horses he owned and so began his love for horses.

Mike joined the Army in the 60’s serving a tour in Korea and Viet Nam. After the Army in the 70’s he made it out West, a long time dream. While visiting the Extension Office, in Coeurd’ Alene, Idaho, Mike noticed a piece of braid work done by Claude “Red” Hutchings. It took six long months of trying to persuade him to help Mike out. Working with Red, Mike learned the basics of making rawhide and knots. Mike then met Horace Henderson. Horace’s work was a little finer than Red’s. Mike spent time the next year learning what he could from Horace. It was Horace who showed him a copy of a Persimmon Hill magazine that had a article and photos of Luis Ortega’s work. After seeing Ortega’s work on display at the Cowboy Hall of Fame, Mike started corresponding with him. The only thing he ever would tell Mike was “practice, practice, practice.”

After six years of learning to make rawhide, cutting string and making knots it was time to give the rawhide world a go. After doing shows from Nevada, Arizona, Wyoming and Oklahoma City, Mike was humbled by receiving Braider of the Year in 1997.

Along with his wife Cindy, they have been very generous in passing knowledge on to others, for many years they have offered seminars that have given many braiders an educated start and continuing advise.

Mike quotes” The highlight of the pass 30 years with rawhide has been the people and doing something that one enjoys as well as preserving his part our Western Heritage. What a privilege it has been.”

Article by Teresa Marsh

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Featured Artist: Rick Bean

rcbean_03Our Featured Artist for this month is is Idaho saddle maker Rick Bean. A TCAA member since 2004, Rick has taken the art of Saddle making to new levels of artistic quality. His passion and devotion to his chosen trade are quite evident in his finished work and conversation. As we write these short comments we try to give a more well rounded view of our members, but as we have never heard Rick talk about anything but saddles, we asked Ricks wife Kristie for some input.

This is what she came up with. Back in 1976 when just a budding teenager, Rick Bean chose his own road. He was going to be a saddle maker, and he has never deviated from that path. His favorite topic of discussion is saddles. He draws them, dreams of them and occasionally builds one. The swivel knife is his favorite tool and he has mastered it well. His next best tool is a 00 Pony shovel- not to downplay the swivel knife- but some guys can dig better than others. Everybody has their vices however, and Rick likes tools, trees and rocks. His 15 acre property is crammed with trees, shrubs, plants and lots of cool rocks, none of which are native.

rcbean_02Conveniently located in the middle of his house is his trick saddle shop, filled with cool sewing machines and tools. A silver shop, wood shop, machine shop, art studio and wife are all close by. Occasionally, life interrupts and he leaves his paradise to visit his parents. Other than food and the company of his lovely wife, Rick has a one-track mind: SADDLES!

Article by Teresa Marsh