Tools of the Trade: Cowboy Chrome / Artists
The following bit and spurmakers and their work are represented in the Western Folklife Center Contemporary Gear Collection.
Robert Campbell – Spurs, Amarillo, Texas
Robert Campbell made this pair of Texas-style spurs with overlaid and engraved silver, hinged flower-stamped spur strap buttons, and a browned finish. Campbell’s Bits and Spurs got its start when a young Robert Campbell found himself short on cash and in need of some new bits. Robert used the metal working skills he had acquired building steel fence and made his own. Before long, people started to take notice of his handmade bits and wanted a set for themselves. By 1983, Robert was enjoying making bits and spurs far more than building fence, so he made the transition to full time silversmith. In 1990, Robert’s son Leo was brought into the business, and together they have developed a style all their own. Robert, like his wife and son, is an exceptional horseman. He was the National Finals Senior Steer Roping Champion in 2001 and 2002, the 2002 Wendy Ryan Memorial Champion, and the 2002 World Champion Senior Steer Roper - thus his slogan “Made for Champions by Champions.”
Lynn Cuch – Spurs, Roosevelt, Utah
The basic design of these spurs is unusual because Lynn mounted the shank horizontally. He added hinged strap buttons and rounded floral rowels. Lynn Cuch is a third generation rancher, and his lifetime on horseback has given him not only an understanding of animals, but also of the tools of the trade. An all-around craftsman, he makes the full range of horse gear necessary to do the job. In addition he is a writer and an artist - his paintings often feature colorful depictions of some pretty interesting horse wrecks. Lynn works for the Ute Tribe Cattle Enterprise of the Northern Ute Tribe in northeastern Utah.
Mark Dahl – Santa Barbara Bit, Deeth, Nevada
This spoon-spade Santa Barbara bit is made of cold rolled steel and features engraved inlaid and overlaid sterling silver.
Mark Dahl grew up in a ranching family in northeastern Nevada’s Starr Valley. This valley continues to be home base for his family and work as a silversmith. In the early 1980s Mark made the decision to become a silversmith, combining his skills as a welder with his fascination for silver-mounted bits and spurs. He is largely self-taught, learning metalwork and silverwork through trial and error, and by studying the traditional gear of the Californios and buckaroos of the region.
Mark believes that silver mounted bits and spurs should appeal to as many of the senses as possible. “They need to be pleasing to the eye and smooth to the touch. The cricket of the bit and the rowels in the spurs should sound good. Although bits and spurs can be beautiful works of art, more importantly they need to be functional,” he explains. This belief has set a standard for a successful career, including founding membership in the distinguished Traditional Cowboy Arts Association.
Buddy Knight – Spurs, Marfa, Texas
These are contemporary Texas-style spurs with sterling silver overlay, made of cold rolled steel, polished, and left to rust over time.
Buddy Knight is a well-known blacksmith, cowboy, and silversmith. Frank “Buddy” Knight made his first pair of spurs in his high school vocational agriculture class in Marfa, Texas, at the age of fourteen. He now teaches welding to high school students in Kermit, Texas making bits and spurs, belt buckles and jewelry in his spare time. Like many craftsmen, Buddy began by studying other people’s work and figuring out what they had done. In 1988, he furthered his knowledge through an apprenticeship with master spurmaker Elmer Miller of Nampa, Idaho. Buddy brings his personal experience of more than 40 years of horseback work to the design of his bits and spurs. “I've always wanted to build spurs since I was little,” he said. “Decorating the spurs just evolved as I built them.” Buddy is featured in Ned and Jody Martin’s publication, Bits & Spurs: Motifs, Techniques and Modern Makers.
Ernie Marsh – Santa Barbara Bit & Spurs, Westfall, Oregon
This matching set features inlaid and overlaid engraved silver and engraved steel with a French grey finish.
Making quality silver mounted bridle bits and spurs has been a passion for Ernie Marsh since 1990. His unique style of combining firearms engraving with traditional inlay techniques sets his work apart. The late Elmer Miller of Nampa, Idaho, and John Barraclough of Pasadena, California, provided educational grounding for Ernie’s work.
Ernie, his wife Teresa, and their two sons enjoy a small ranch in the high desert country of eastern Oregon. The Marshes operate a full-time shop, where since 1998 they have been producing bits, spurs, saddle silver and buckles, and the traditional style stainless bridle bits first made famous by noted bit maker Al Tietjen of Reno, Nevada. In 2000, the Academy of Western Artists honored him with the Will Rogers Award for Spurmaker of the Year. Ernie is a member of the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association.
Frank Schultz – Spurs, Victor, Montana
Inspired by the work of Jose Tapia, a southern California craftsman active in the 1880s, these spurs feature inlaid sterling silver and filigree work, engraved steel and silver on the outside and inside bands, and engraved silver discs over the 3" 30-point rowels. The work is finished with a barrel brown.
Frank Schultz began making gear out of necessity while managing a remote cattle station in the Kimberley region of Australia. This led to his interest in building bits, spurs, and other cowboy accoutrements. In 1990 Frank and his wife Vicki and their two children made the move to America to enable Frank to learn spurmaking. In 1991 Frank and Vicki opened Bitterroot Bit & Spur in Victor, Montana, where they continue to make custom spurs and bits.
Al Tietjen – Spade Bit, Reno, Nevada
This "Elko Star" spade bit was donated to the Western Folklife Center by the artist. Al Tietjen created bits and spurs for over fifty years. Born in Winnemucca, Nevada, the young Tietjen showed no interest in art. "I couldn't draw my name," he told us. Nevertheless, he became a maker of bits and spurs that are still coveted by ranchers and riders everywhere.
Al ran a custom bit and spur business in San Francisco in the 1940s with Elmer Miller, then moved to Reno and made custom bits and spurs in his spare time until 1968, when he devised a technique of mass-producing stainless steel bits. In the mid-1980s, when that business began to suffer from foreign competition, Al returned to custom silver work. His unique designs, inlaid silver and gold work, and masterful engraving make his pieces stand out in the world of custom cowboy gear. Al was recognized for his fine work with a Nevada Governor’s Arts Award in 2002 and was a member of the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association.
Headstall with Reins
This headstall was assembled from pieces crafted by five artists.
Dan Price, San Juan Capistrano, California – Bit
Bob Stone, Three Rivers, California – Reins
John Weinkauf, Kerrville, Texas – Headpiece
Tracy White, Nocona, Texas – Silver
The Dan Price bit on this headstall was made with cold-rolled steel inlaid with fine silver and features a crescent moon and big concho pattern on the cheek pieces. The mouthpiece is a half-breed. The finely stitched headpiece was made by John Weinkauf, combining boot ostrich leather with a horsehair browband made in the workshop of Montana State Prison. The piece also features Tracy White engraved silver buckles and conchos, and rawhide reins by Bob Stone.
Dan Price says of his work, “It is pleasing to me to carry on a tradition of building gear that was established in the Spanish Mission days of early California, a tradition steeped with the finest in craftsmanship and design.” Dan Price currently works as a blacksmith.
A native Californian, Bob Stone works in a strict California tradition, which he describes as a slightly lighter, understated style of gear. A set of extremely fine reins, made from over 900 feet of rawhide strings, takes over two months to complete.
A self-taught artist who was inspired by Sam Luchese, John Weinkauf has been making boots since 1974. John grew up outside Tucson, Arizona, and moved to Nevada in 1983. In the Spring of 2005 he moved his shop to Kerrville, Texas.
While cowboying in New Mexico and northern California Tracy White put his art background to use by making buckles, conchos, and other silverwork for his ranching friends. He is now known nationally for his meticulous and artful creations, including award pieces for the National Finals Rodeo.