Between Grass and Sky: Trappings of a Ranch Life

There are those to the leather born, Whose hearts beat to the hoof and horn
                From Grass by Buck Ramsey


In a horseman’s world, trappings, such as saddles and bits, are essential tools of everyday horseback work, as well as visible icons of work style and aesthetics. For this exhibition, some of the finest custom saddlemakers and bitmakers were invited to show off their best work. Operating one-person shops, these artists spend hundreds of hours in designing, forging, welding, cutting, filing, stitching, engraving and tooling; with every detail, seen or unseen, given quality attention. Though the work is solitary, these individuals are also part of a dynamic community of artisans that provides opportunities for creative partnerships and learning. The end result of these collaborations in metal, silver, rawhide and leather is stunning.

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Master saddlemakers from as far away as Germany, France and Australia are represented in this collection of 21 saddles. Customers of these craftsmen often wait years to receive a custom made saddle.

Go to bits & bridles »

Master bit makers were asked to create an upper palate style bit and to collaborate with a headstall maker and reins and romal maker in completing their bridle submission. 

The following artisans are featured in this exhibit: Christopher Cheney, Ricarda McCleary Clause, Mark Dahl, Arne Esp, Bruce Alan Haener, Todd Hansen (Bitmaker Best of Show Award), Chuck Irwin, Gene Klein, Ernie Marsh, John Mincer, Frank Schultz, Mike Vatalaro, and Gary Wiggins, Michael Bethel, Marc Brogger, Don Butler, Doug Cox, Keith Duncan, Aaron Fandek, Wolfgang Fey, Jeff Hanson, Nancy Hoggan, Wayne Kelly (Saddle Best of Show Award), Yves Lesire, Bill Maloy, Dan Mayer, Bob Ray, Jordie Regier, Fritz Riedl, Ron Rose, Cary Schwarz, Jesse Smith, Ken Tipton, Keith Valley, and Paul Van Dyke.

Artists collaborating with these artisans include: Bill Bean, Bill Black, Jay Black, Bob Burns, Ron Butler, Vince Donley, Keith Gertch, Greg Gommersall, Sarah Douglas Hagel, Mario Hanel, Leland Hensley, Robin Johnson, Juan Lara, Pablo Lozano, Teresa Marsh, Ron Mewes, Jeff Minor, Whit Olson, Bruce Sandifer, Chuck Sheppard, Ben Swanke, Nate Wald, Trina Weber, Kevin Willey, Warren Wright, Flat Hat Silver, Silver King, and others.

Special thanks to:

Photography by Adam Jahiel. Exhibition curated by Jeremiah and Colleen Watt with Western Folklife Center staff Meg Glaser and Christina Barr.

The exhibition installed in the Western Folklife Center Wiegand Gallery was a collaboration and partnership with the Nevada Museum of Art. The design of both Reno and Elko exhibitions was provided by Nik Hafermaas, Principal of UeBERSEE Design and Dean of Communication Design at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. Banner photo of Wiegand Gallery installation by Nic Hafermass.