Curious about the craft, and eager to learn, Heisman received pointers from saddlemakers and master bit and spur makers who lived in Tucson. In 1970, he built his first saddle. He also fashioned his first pair of rodeo spurs, and in the following years, he did leather work and made rodeo equipment as a sideline while in the air-conditioning and sheet metal field.
In 1978, he and his wife, Jeanne, opened J & B Saddlery in Portales, New Mexico, later calling it Bill Heisman Custom Saddles. In this establishment, he built custom saddles and made a few Texas style bits and spurs. He sold the saddle shop in 1987. In 1989, they also sold their home and returned to Tucson, where Heisman decided to follow a lifelong desire and improve his bit and spur making skills.
“Elmer Miller agreed to let me attend his school for two weeks,” he says now. “That’s where things finally came together for me. After attending Miller’s school, I went to the Trinidad Junior College in Trinidad, Colorado for an engraving course. There, I learned to make and use gravers, the various cutting or shaving tools used in engraving, and I developed the engraving style I now use.”
In 1990, Heisman set up shop, making California style bits and spurs, in the fashion of the early Vaqueros. He also made miniature saddle sets, and did leather and silver work as well as engraving.
Heisman has exhibited at Trappings of the West, Flagstaff, Arizona and the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, Sun Valley, Idaho. In 1996, the Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Los Angeles bought a pair of his spurs for display. In January of that same year, he won the engraving competition at the Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. His work also was displayed at the Dry Creek Arts Fellowship exhibitions in Sedona, Arizona, in 1997, 1998, and 2000. His work was included in the 1998 Trappings of the Cowboy Exhibit in the Tohono Chul Park Gallery in Tucson, Arizona. Bill was chosen as the 2001 Academy of Western Artists Spur Maker of the Year award.
Part 1: How to inlay fine silver.
Part 2: How to inlay fine silver.
Part 3: How to inlay fine silver.
Mailing AddressBill Heisman
6550 N. Desert View Dr.
Tucson, AZ 85743