FORG­ING AHEAD

The TCAA cel­e­brates 20 years of top-qual­ity cow­boy gear at this year’s Cow­boy Cross­ings in Ok­la­homa City.

Western Art Collector - - RCENTLY ACQUIRED - By Michael Claw­son

Be­fore the cre­ation of the Tra­di­tional Cow­boy Arts As­so­ci­a­tion, found­ing mem­ber Scott Hardy found him­self con­cerned with the po­ten­tial pit­falls of a group like the TCAA. As he and sad­dle­maker Chuck Stormes drove down to what would be­come the first meet­ing of the group, the two artists dis­cussed with each other what they wanted in a group. And what they didn’t.

“We both agreed that if it was about self-pro­mo­tion we weren’t in­ter­ested. That was not some­thing we had any in­ter­est in,” Hardy says. “When we got down there we found a dozen or so guys and they were all on the same page. We all had the same rea­son­ing: we wanted to im­prove these dis­ci­plines, to im­prove and pre­serve the cul­ture, and to move what we were do­ing from fine crafts­man­ship into the fine art world. And that’s what we’ve been about ever since.”

Twenty years later and that mis­sion con­tin­ues as the TCAA cel­e­brates two decades of bring­ing top-qual­ity, high-end cow­boy gear—in­tri­cate sil­ver works, braided rawhide and care­fully de­tailed leather ob­jects—to Western col­lec­tors around the world. The group will mark the im­por­tant mile­stone at this year’s Cow­boy Cross­ings be­gin­ning Oc­to­ber 4 at the Na­tional Cow­boy & Western Her­itage Mu­seum. The an­nual show, an ex­hi­bi­tion it shares with the Cow­boy Artists of Amer­ica, will bring out all of the cur­rent TCAA mem­bers as well as many emer­i­tus mem­bers. Sad­dle­maker Cary Sch­warz says the TCAA has come a long way since its found­ing in 1998, and that progress has been mea­sured year after year. “We got where we are to­day by plac­ing one foot in front of the other. By look­ing for ways to re­fine what we’re do­ing and to achieve the ob­jec­tives we are aim­ing for,” he says. “Just look at our mis­sion state­ment. We want to pre­serve and pro­mote these trades. What we’re re­ally try­ing to do is help peo­ple see this work as the new col­lectible, and try­ing to get them to see the West dif­fer­ently. It’s func­tional art com­ing from a more util­i­tar­ian view­point, but we’re also tak­ing it to a whole new level. What was once only util­i­tar­ian can now be called fine art.”

One of the hall­marks of the TCAA is the way its mem­bers push their work to the ab­so­lute ex­treme end of cre­ativ­ity. These are ob­jects that take hun­dreds of hours of work and, in some cases, a decade or more of ex­pe­ri­ence to ac­quire the skills nec­es­sary to fin­ish them. And while the bulk of the cre­ations are sta­ples of Western gear—sad­dles, bits and spurs, quirts and belt buck­les—the works also veer into other items such as de­canters, bo­los, brief­cases, photo al­bums, can­teens and pic­ture frames. Each ob­ject is hand-crafted at such a high level of skill that it of­ten pushes artists be­yond their abil­i­ties.

“We have to push our­selves past our com­fort zones, to set new bench­marks for the in­dus­try and to use tech­niques that haven’t been used be­fore,” Hardy

says, adding that the work that TCAA cre­ates con­trib­utes to con­tem­po­rary vari­a­tion of the Old West. “This is the New West. We’re tak­ing the his­toric and con­tem­po­rary and blend­ing them to­gether to move them ahead…i keep com­ing back to the cul­tural as­pect. Some peo­ple say, ‘Well, that’s grandpa’s cul­ture,’ but that’s not the case at all. The West is thriv­ing. Whether it’s in a sad­dle or a bit or buckle, it all rounds out the West and gives it mean­ing. And it’s wear­able art. Wil­son Capron al­ways says, ‘You don’t have to own a horse to own a piece of the West,’ and our work gives peo­ple the free­dom to in­ves­ti­gate and em­brace the West.”

In ad­di­tion to the an­nual Cow­boy Cross­ings show, the TCAA also par­tic­i­pates heav­ily in the

Trap­pings of the West ex­hi­bi­tion at the Mu­seum of the Big Bend in Alpine, Texas, as well as

Brian Lebel’s Cody Old West Show in Mesa, Ari­zona, where the group hon­ors young TCAA hope­fuls with fel­loships and awards. Ed­u­ca­tion among the pub­lic, as well as young crafts­men and women, is a key com­po­nent to the group, which prides it­self on the way it men­tors young

artists. Their ul­ti­mate hope is that the young artists push them­selves to be­come even­tual mem­bers. It’s a dif­fi­cult process, but one that brings out the best artists.

“We have a two-step process: we look at a port­fo­lio of their work, which is just a sim­ple mea­sure for us to look at their work, and then once they pass that they have to build us three pieces and bring it to the fall show for us to re­view. They have to get 75 per­cent of the vote to get in and we vote by se­cret bal­lot,” Capron says. “Some mem­bers have ap­plied many times, but with each ap­pli­ca­tion they get bet­ter and bet­ter. They stretch their abil­i­ties. And let me tell you, to tell your friends they’re not good enough to get into the TCAA is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for us, but it’s im­por­tant we main­tain the in­tegrity of the group. The group rep­re­sents the best of the best. Char­ac­ter is also im­por­tant. If some­one is look­ing for self-pro­mo­tion or the spot­light they are prob­a­bly not a great fit for us.”

The TCAA is also open to women artists, though none have passed the ad­mis­sion process yet. “In 20 years we’ve had two women ap­ply. Their work wasn’t quite there yet, but that and our emerg­ing artist com­pe­ti­tion, which re­cently had four ladies, it gives me a lot of hope,” Hardy says. “We would love to have women mem­bers. It all boils down to this, though: there are very few males who could be in the group. We ask for a lot, for the high­est level of work to be achieved, and there just aren’t that many peo­ple mak­ing these things. I truly, truly hope to see a woman or mul­ti­ple women in the group some­day.”

This year’s Cow­boy Cross­ings will once again fea­ture around three pieces from all its cur­rent mem­bers, as well as some emer­i­tus mem­bers, in ad­di­tion to a dis­cus­sion about the TCAA on the oc­ca­sion of its 20th an­niver­sary. This year’s show will also serve as a de­but for the TCAA’S first cof­fee ta­ble book, Cow­boy Re­nais­sance, which will fea­ture work from ev­ery mem­ber of the group through­out its two-

decade his­tory. The an­niver­sary is also al­low­ing mem­bers a chance to re­flect back on the his­tory of the group and for­ward into the fu­ture.

“For the most part we’re all in­cred­i­bly in­de­pen­dent peo­ple who have be­come quite com­fort­able work­ing 360 days out of the year alone in the shop, un­til we have to come out and go min­gle at the mu­se­ums and act nor­mal. But we are all ded­i­cated to this cause and pur­pose. We sac­ri­fice our time to pass this on and make this or­ga­ni­za­tion move ahead,” Hardy says. “We’ve be­come am­bas­sadors of the West, and we’re very proud of that role.”

Capron adds: “Some­thing Cary [Sch­warz] of­ten says is that we don’t tell the story of West. We are the West.”

Wil­son Capron works on an in­tri­cate de­tail on one of his spurs.

Wil­son Capron, Spurs With a Heart of Gold, Cut­ter spurs with 24k gold in­lay

Cary Sch­warz, sad­dle with sil­ver horn by Scott Hardy and py­ro­graphic em­bel­lish­ments (de­tail)

Beau Comp­ton, squash blos­som pen­dant with over­laid scroll with rose gold flower neck­lace with braided rawhide by Pablo Lozano

Scott Hardy, de­canter and fun­nel set 14k yel­low gold flower cen­ters

John Willemsma, sad­dle

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