What inspired you to become a bootmaker?
I attended TSTI …… Texas State Technical Institute in Amarillo, Texas starting in 1978. I completed the boot/shoe repair and saddle making and opened my own shop in Lovington, NM in May of 1980. After a couple of years making and repairing saddles I realized I hated all saddle work. I heard about a bootmaker in Hobbs, NM that might take a “serious” apprentice. I started going to A. W. (Bud) Pate’s shop at night after I closed my shop and he worked with me until midnight or 1am in the morning. Then I would go home and catch a few hours sleep and start all over the next day. After about 6 months Bud saw I was “serious” and he told me that he wanted to sell me the whole shop and that he would continue my apprenticeship and he would “piece work” for me. I will always be grateful for him making me this deal so that a “kid” could survive.
Who was your teacher?
The maker who taught me was A. W. (Bud) Pate in Hobbs, New Mexico. He had been all over West Texas/Southeastern New Mexico working for other makers as well as working for himself. He was a no nonsense maker who was known for his fit and long wearing boots. Therefore, I was never taught the process of inlay (an artform that still intrigues me today).
What were some of your early struggles and successes?
I had only 2 years of apprenticeship under “Bud” before his health forced him to retire and move to his daughters home. I will never forget asking him if I was ready to be on my own. He flatly said “No, you’re not”. But I was stupid/stubborn enough to jump in without another thought. After all, I had a wife and 2 boys to feed. What little ability I have, I attribute to God and tenacity. I truly thank all my 1st customers for putting up with my 25 year old “snot nose kid” mentality. Luckily I could fit most customers (thank you Bud) but my eye appeal lacked just a little. I worked night and day on my craft and I eventually worked all the bugs out.
What advice do you have for bootmakers just starting out?
Back then, as far as l knew, no other maker shared any of their knowledge. After a few years a customer brought me a copy of the book “Texas Bootmakers” and Wow!! There were all of the makers I had heard about. Talk about an eye opener. If I was just starting out …I would go work for everyone I could. There are so many true artists out there that it boggles the mind. Of course it would help to be single. I don’t know how much sharing of information and knowledge was going on back then, all I know is the makers I asked questions would not share any of their personally acquired trade skills. I am truly blessed that the times have changed and for that I am immensely grateful.
What are your hopes for the future of the craft?
I absolutely think that the sky is the limit for our profession. As long as there are artistic individuals in the world the orders will be available for us all to prosper. Bookmaking is an artform that is driven by imagination and a thirst for exquisite handmade footwear which is more than a career … it is a way of life.
Hobbs, New Mexico USA
The Cowboy Bootmakers. Memories and photos collected by Dana Perrotti, 2019.