Day 5- My Goal this week was to give Tanner and Jodi Knowledge, Experience and Process that would start to form a Base allowing them to take their Ideas and Creativity from their Heads to their Hands.

Through the week they each Built a Buckle(shape, size, edge of their own choosing) that put them through the Paces of Designing Complicated Fabrication Techniques:

-These steps were Designed to Understand that if you Learnt your Basics, Respect the Trade and Materials, Dedicate Yourself to Learning that overtime You can Accomplish what you Desire.

This was a Long 5 Days filled with Discussions, Theory, Challenges and Revelations(AWE-HAW Moments). Sounds Hard Perhaps but because of their Dedication it was also Fun!

Thank You to the TCAA Providing These Opportunities, Thank You to the Sponsors for Making it Possible and Thank You to Jodi and Tanner for having the Courage and Desire to want to Continue True Cowboy Craftsmanship.

Scott Hardy

Day 4- Worked Hands-on at Complicated Scroll and Flower Overlay Soldering Technics and Theory.

Along with Extensive Discussion about Pricing, Career Motives and Moving from Craft to Art with Dedication to a Chosen Discipline.


Day 3- We Journeyed to Chuck Storme’s Shop where Tanner and Jodi were inspired by Chuck over 50 years of Dedication to Craftsmanship, his Shop Organization and Purpose Plus Silver pieces he had On Hand from John Ennis and The Murry Brothers.

We returned to my Shop and they Proceeded on Their Projects all the Time Discussing the Purpose and Life Of a Craftsperson and Craftsmanship.

As They Said At The End Of The Day – “Life Changing”

I can honestly say that the love/hate relationship with rawhide is the main reason I’m still passionate about braiding rawhide after roughly 37 years.

During workshops I spend a lot of time with students talking about rawhide, not the finished product but the material itself in the raw. The learning curve for rawhide never seems to straighten out, no pun intended ! That is the exciting thing about working with it. The sense of accomplishment you get when you finish a piece and it agrees with what it was made into is what drives me to go on. We have all had pieces that were done mechanically right but just did not turn out right. It seems as though just about the time you think you have it all figured out, something changes. For no reason at all a certain breed of cow may produce a different color of hide. For no reason at all hair may come off more easily or harder than past hides, and I could go on and on. The point being no matter how consistent you are in preparing the hide there is always the chance it will not do what your expecting. Don’t get me wrong, being consistent is important in everything having to do with braiding including hide preparation, but there in lies the love/hate thing. 

While cutting strings and braiding, the curve does not get any easier. Some hides just cut better than others, why ?  I don’t know !  The animal was the same, the hide was prepped the same, it just cuts different. Some hides take a day to temper before they cut nice, some hides take three days, Why ?  I don’t know !  Some hides except dye better than others, Why ?  I don’t know !  Sure there are some reasons that can be explained that may be obvious after 37 years of braiding the stuff, but just as many times there is no logical explanation.

This all can be very discouraging to someone trying to learn to braid or to someone who has braided awhile and just doesn’t seem to be making the progress they had hoped. My answer to this is to embrace the uniqueness of the material and use that as inspiration, knowing that not everyone has the patience to continue on with this undoubtably strong but fickle material. 

In the end, all I can say is let the hide tell you what it should be, don’t try to make it into something it is not meant to be. It will only disappoint when finished. This is easier said than done but nothing replaces time and a whole lot of mistakes. When it’s all said and done there is nothing like the feel of a finished piece where everything worked out right. Then you can start loving it again !

Cary Schwarz Saddle with Scott Hardy Silver

It’s a Beautiful Sunday afternoon in the heart of Alberta’s Cowboy Country, I’m in my shop working on my main 2018 TCAA project. If that sounds like a Complaint it’s Not!

As a Western Silversmith commissions are the backbone of my work. I look forward to the challenge each client brings to creating a piece that holds meaning and pleasure for them.

But I have to admit TCAA pieces hold a special and different meaning for me. These pieces represent the opportunity for unbridled creativity, finally allowing those thoughts and ideas out of my head and into precious metal.

This year is the 20th Anniversary of the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association’s Annual Exhibition & Sale. The shows objective is simple yet complicated- Create Works that Push Technical, Design, Artistic and Creative Boundaries in the four Cowboy Art disciplines (Silversmithing, Bit and Spurmaking, Saddlemaking and Rawhide Braiding). I feel blessed that as a founding member I have participated in each of the shows. As a matter of record over the last 19 years between my own pieces and pieces I have collaborated on I have averaged 9 projects per year which translates to 171 projects to date.

These projects whether my own or a collaboration require long hours of Thought, Planning and Work. But truly for me they represent Knowledge, Experience and Growth as a Craftsman, Artist and Person.

Hardy Shot Glasses

Beginning my journey as a Western Silversmith 39 years ago my Number One Goal was to become the best I could be. Thank You to the TCAA, NC&WHM, Collectors, Clients and Family for this Opportunity making it possible for me to work towards that goal.
See You in the Fall.

As I write this looking back on 2017, it was a year filled with a lot of excitement and new obstacles to navigate. This was my first full year as the newest member of the TCAA. While exciting, this was a goal I had worked diligently towards for several years, this ushered in not only new opportunities, but new responsibilities and demands to work into my schedule. I certainly didn’t want to drop the ball right out of the chute, so to speak.

For many years, I have run my business by going to a few, select shows each year for which I prepare inventory to sell and take custom orders. Over the years, this list of shows has changed and been refined as I have found what works, and my customer base has changed and expanded. This year, the task of creating 4 pieces of my best work for the Cowboy Crossings show was added to my list. My years of preparing for shows and the TCAA’s application process itself was a bit of preparation. For two years, I had already created 3 pieces of work, once when I got in, and once when I didn’t—so to some level, I already had experience balancing these “big” projects with income-producing activities and still prioritizing family time on the home front. Without the requirements and constraints of the application process the previous 2 years, I think this would have been overwhelming. Although stressful at times, it was exciting, rewarding, and well worth the effort.

For five years, my family and I had made the investment and effort to attend Cowboy Crossings at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. It was always inspiring and breathtaking to walk into that show the first night and see all the pieces displayed. Magnify that about a thousand times, when you walk in and see your own pieces behind the glass. Stuff gets real!! I tried not to act giddy like a tourist at Disneyland and reminded myself to “act like you’ve been there before, Compton” and to take it all in and enjoy it. One of the most rewarding parts, was taking my children to the family preview night so they could see a goal accomplished, as we had all worked as a family and sacrificed at times. Sale night was full of different emotions and one I won’t soon forget!

As my responsibilities increase, I am continually trying to improve my work and my product. Looking forward, I realize that you must always reevaluate the costs and benefits of where you spend your time and effort. There’s only so much time in a day, and you can’t do everything.

The TCAA’s mission is to preserve and promote the skills of craftsman within our disciplines. I got my first chance to participate in an educational venture at the Emerging Artist Competition at the High Noon Show in Mesa, AZ. Twice before, I had been a contestant. This year, it was quite an honor, yet humbling, to spend time with a great group of silversmiths judging and critiquing their work to help them reach their goals. I look forward to more of these opportunities.

Overall, my “Rookie” year in the TCAA was extremely rewarding. It was well worth the effort to set a goal and spend years toward it. I am excited about the projects I am working on this year, and to see what’s in store as the chapters unfold.

The last several years I have had the opportunity to continue my education, or portions of it, by studying under some great craftsmen/artists. I want to take the opportunity to explain the importance of this. Not only the aspect of improving my skill set, but how it affects the day to day approach of working in the shop.

One of the hardest things we face as self-employed, creative types is the difficulty of being able to be productive and creative from one day to the next. How do we keep from becoming burned out? The answer is easy, you had better love it! But even love takes cultivation; it either grows or it dies. This is only my viewpoint and I don’t expect it to work for everyone, but maybe it will work for some.

I am one that likes to create something new and challenging from one project to the next. The mass production world that I was involved in during my apprentice years was not the answer for me. We built the same old thing day in and day out. No thank you! That was not for me! As I established my own business I needed, or wanted, to have some fun. I wanted to create things I wasn’t even sure how or even if I could. Today, I am a custom piece artist who brings the customer into the design process from the beginning and helps them tell their story through my work. I want my customers to have ownership in the piece before I ever get started. The piece needs to be theirs. Is this challenging? I would argue that it doesn’t get any harder. Getting the story from some of you is not an easy task and then to be able to create it is a whole other level of difficulty. But I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Now, how do I stay interested doing work that is someone else’s idea? Well, I still get to command the pencil and swing the hammer. I get to put my mark on it so it must have my story involved in it as well. That is where the continuing education comes in. I am always wanting to try something new and get my customers’ story told in a way that is totally different. In order for my skills to stay fresh, I have to expose myself to other forms and mediums of metal craft. I have to educate myself from other professionals’ experiences. The TCAA has a requirement for me do something different and improved each and every year. This just so happens to fit my personality perfectly.

A couple years ago, Scott Hardy and myself spent a week with master engraver Sam Alfano in Covington, LA. I should have done it 10 years ago! I was exposed to a whole new level of art that has sparked a fire in me that is really hard to control. As I learn new skills and work to master them, maintaining a marketable product, or one that fits within the defined budget of my customer, is a whole other problem! That is a topic for another day. But the exciting part is, Sam introduced me to skills I didn’t know were possible. That in turn has taken me to other avenues of education.

Last January, GRS in Emporia, KS held a class called the Grand Master’s Program. They accepted 12 people from around the world to come study under a Grand Master that would otherwise be difficult to gain the opportunity to study under. Alain Lovenberg, a Belgium engraver, taught the class. Sam was the first to introduce me to the work of Alain and I have to say he quickly became one of my favorite people to gain inspiration from. GRS sent out an advertisement promoting the class in late 2016. Entries needed to be turned in by March 2017 when they would then be reviewed for acceptance. Applicants would be informed of who was accepted in April. Of course, a nominal fee was required upon your entry (that I didn’t feel I like I had). Then with your acceptance, the other half of the total tuition was required. I felt that if I was accepted I would figure that part out! There was only one small minor detail that was a real inconvenience for me. That was the date for the class. No, I didn’t have anything scheduled, but it just so happened to fall the second week of August. That is one week after the deadline for the TCAA show. No problem, right? Get your work in on time and you’re good. That in itself is always scary, but also one must remember TCAA members build their work for the show without any compensation until and if your works sell in October. The short of it is, I would be flat out broke after spending 4-6 months building for Cowboy Crossings. I thought long and hard about it. I weighed the options carefully and determined that it was going to be much cheaper to go to Emporia, a 9-hour drive, than it would be to go to Belgium. As far as the time, when is a good time? The money? I never have any!! The opportunity to study under one of today’s greats is irreplaceable! I could not pass this up.

I tell you all this to share that I too have the same doubts and fears that everyone else has. I was scared I wouldn’t get in. Didn’t know whether I could pay for it. How would my family do with me leaving for two weeks? The class wasn’t cheap, but leaving for two weeks was definitely going to be expensive. I would be all by myself!! No one to sit by me and be my buddy! The end of the story is I made it. I got accepted. I got everything paid for. My family survived and the bills were paid. The inspiration and the knowledge I gained was priceless. The new friends I made are characters I can add to my story that make it all that much more valuable. If I had listened to logic and gave into my fears, I wouldn’t be the craftsman I am today. I wouldn’t have the burning desire to get to the shop to see if I can accomplish what I believe I now can do. All this is what keeps me going.

The other thing this class did was introduce the outside world to people like me who wear a cowboy hat. Yes, I was the only one wearing a hat in Kansas and was one of the few who didn’t have a tattoo. They got used to me in time. *Giggle*. The world doesn’t know what the West has to offer. I was able to add something to their continuing education program that maybe they weren’t expecting. No, I probably didn’t show a new level of engraving or skill that they didn’t already know. But maybe I offered an insight to the Western world that created some interest as to what we offer. Our western story has a very important role in the history of North America. I hope more people will recognize our value and abilities as craftsmen.

In closing, it is okay to be scared. We all have fears and the challenge of facing them is huge. I write this to encourage you to accept your fears and to face them. I am not trying to make everyone a custom bit and spur maker. We all have a place in this world, whether you are in mass production that focuses on function or the custom maker who tends to focus on the artistic side of the story. We are all in this together and to stay focused and inspired is challenging. Continuing my education is a way I do it. There are many different aspects to bit and spur making so something is always around the corner to try next. You just gotta try it.

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.


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.