Tools of the Trade: The Creak of Leather / Artists

The following saddle makers and leather workers work is represented in the Western Folklife Center Contemporary Gear Collection.

 Photo by Becky Brown

Photo by Becky Brown

 Photo by Michael Houghton

Photo by Michael Houghton

Scott Brown – Saddle, Salt Lake City, Utah
This saddle is one of three saddles commissioned to initiate the Western Folklife Center´s Contemporary Cowboy Gear Collection. The saddle uses a modified association style tree, is fully carved with double rigging, round skirts, and a Cheyenne roll cantle. Scott, a native of Texas, began his saddlemaking career by attending a saddle school in Amarillo, Texas.

After graduating in 1977, he and his wife Becky moved to Elko, Nevada, and Scott went to work as a saddle maker for the J.M. Capriola Company. Scott spent several years there under the guidance of Eddie Brooks before leaving to work full time on some of the larger ranches in northern Nevada. He and his family moved back to Texas in 1993, where Scott built saddles for Big Bend Saddlery in Alpine by day and played fiddle by night.

In 2004 Scott took his love of the violin and craftsmanship a step further by becoming an apprentice at the Violin Making School of America in Salt Lake City, Utah. He still finds time to build saddles for Big Bend Saddlery and to play Irish music with local musicians. Scott´s wife Becky speaks of Scott´s dedication to whatever he sets his mind to learn, working to capture the nuances of Irish music in much the same way that he attends to the fine details of leather stamping.


 Photo by Brent Herridge

Photo by Brent Herridge

Minnie Dick – Buckskin Gloves, Lee, Nevada
These gloves were hand-sewn using a three-corner buckskin needle threaded with nylon parachute thread. Minnie Dick received a Nevada Governor´s Arts Award in 1988 in recognition of the key role she played in maintaining Western Shoshone traditional arts.


Dale Harwood – Saddle, Shelley, Idaho
Dale Harwood made everything but the stirrups on this saddle, which features a Wade tree with a 15" seat, 3-½" x 13" cantle, round skirts, 7/8-position double rigging, a Wade Cheyenne roll, curved side stirrups, and 4X copper rose tooling.

Dale´s reputation as a saddlemaker extends far beyond the borders of Idaho, the state he has always called home. He has set his standards high, from the sizing and shaping of the wooden trees that form the base of his saddles to the beautifully stamped leather and silver engraved finishes. When asked about the inspiration for his leather stamping, Dale comments, "Cowboying represents the outdoors, it represents nature and life, and flowers represent nature and life. So for most of my stamping I use a lot of buds and I use a lot more leaves, and I try to represent nature as close as you can on leather."

A founding member of the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association, Dale received the Best of Show award at the Western Folklife Center´s 1997 saddle exhibition and was honored with the Idaho Governor´s Arts Award for Excellence in Folk and Traditional Arts in 2004. In 2001, a jury of his peers recognized Dale Harwood´s artistry with the Will Rogers Award for Saddlemaker of the Year, presented by the Academy of Western Artists in Fort Worth, Texas.

 Photo by Meg Glaser

Photo by Meg Glaser

 Photo by Michael Houghton

Photo by Michael Houghton


Edward McDade – Buckskin Gloves, Lee, Nevada
Western Shoshone rancher Edward McDade, from Lee, Nevada, does all the steps in preparing the deerhide for making work gloves such as these. The hide is processed in an old style using a solution including deer brains. The late Minnie Dick was one of his teachers. Ed's daughter, Angie McGarva, is also active in traditional arts, including beading and buckskin work.

 Photo by Brent Herridge

Photo by Brent Herridge

 Photo by Brent Herridge

Photo by Brent Herridge


Jeremiah Watt – Saddle, Coalinga, California
A few years ago the Western Folklife Center commissioned Jeremiah Watt to make a saddle for our collection.

A Canadian native, Jeremiah got his start in saddlemaking in 1976 at a saddle making school in Amarillo, Texas. After that he traveled around the country visiting saddle shops before he landed a job with Chuck Stormes of Calgary, Canada. After seven years he moved to the U.S, working as a ranch hand and building saddles and bits in the evening. After several years of roaming Jeremiah and his family settled in California.

Visiting the website Ranch2Arena.com provides a glimpse of the many interests and talents of Jeremiah Watt. They include a custom saddle business, a contract saddle business with his brother Bill, and a wholesale bit and spur and saddlery tool manufacturing company. Beyond production, Jeremiah is a patient teacher and lifelong student; among his accomplishments are a series of educational videos on the subject of gearmaking, including The Art of Leather Carving and Layout, The Art of Saddlemaking, Cowboy Engraving, Cowboy Bit and Spur Making, and Cowboy Silversmithing. For several years he and his wife Colleen have served as curators of the gathering of gear exhibitions at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.