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.
Wilson 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.
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.
Story 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.
“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.
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.”
Pedro Pedrini saddle shop is also home of the Western Leather Academy, a saddle making and leather workmanship school . Here is the spring 2014 tuition with Gene Kirkendall from Lakeport, California, James Brachet from France, and Rocky Armitage from Jamestown California
You’ve wondered what this whole TCAA deal is all about. Hear the story told by it’s members, filmed in Alberta this spring. Video by A.J. Mangum.
Cary Schwarz taught a design and floral carving class at Christoval, Texas June 17,18. Ten students spent one day working on paper learning principles of design, and a systematic way of laying visual information down. The second day featured instruction on swivel knife work, stamping tool selection and use. This session was held at Wilson and Katy Capron’s home and shop where the students enjoyed world class hospitality and Katy’s fabulous meals.
Last week I had the pleasure of having Amy Raymond from Helix OR. learning about bridle bits and we spent the week making one. Already an accomplished spur maker she comes from a ranching family in the Pendleton Oregon area and in fact is in charge of the Pendleton Cattle Barons Annual Cowboy Gear Exhibition and Show, an event that I am proud to participate in. She put in some long but productive hours and managed to have a nice one completed just in time to catch a plane home. I’m confident she will have much success in the future of her business. – Ernie Marsh
A Drawing /Engraving class today in Wilson Capron’s shop is wrapping up. The class started Thursday morning with exercises in developing their skills of observation to enhance their drawings and designs. After lunch each day engraving mechanics and problems have been addressed.
Cary Schwarz and his son T.J. are here filming for a future video featuring these exercises in drawing.
Chip Merchant, a bit and spur maker from Mollala, Or spent some time in my shop last week. We designed and got a pretty good start on a pair of buckaroo spurs. We discussed functional aspects , design, engraving and finishing techniques of bridle bits and spurs though the course of the week. He’s a talented individual and very determined to get it right. I think we can all look foreword to seeing some nice work from him in the future.
Sincerely ! Ernie Marsh