What inspired you to become an apprentice bootmaker?
Somewhere on the planes of style and function there’s a little intersection. Boots are right there in that little sweet spot for me. I’ve always enjoyed making things, working with leather or making clothing and bags. And of course as a card-carrying Texan I’ve worn boots since I was a kid and see them as an icon of my home more than anything else. Somewhere along the way all of these things smooshed together, marinated, and I found myself wanting to learn about how boots are made, who makes them, and how I might learn to make boots myself.
Who are your teachers? What is it like to learn from them?
I’m an apprentice under master bootmaker Lee Miller at Texas Traditions Boots in Austin. I’m one of four apprentices at TT including Charlotte Marshall, Dana Perrotti, and Jojo McKibben, who might all just as well be my teachers, too. Learning from Lee is a great pleasure. He’s an incredibly trusting and patient instructor, with his apprentices’ futures and best interests at heart at all times. Lee gives freedom to learn and explore, to take risks and try new things, and ultimately to make mistakes and learn from them, too. I’ve never felt like anything other than a part of Lee’s team and that’s given me great freedom to learn and grow.
How would you describe your experience as an apprentice?
I’ve been an apprentice for a little over a year. It’s been a really challenging experience so far. I’ve got to learn quickly, apply what I’ve learned correctly the first time around, and make it look beautiful. Of course that’s an ideal situation and one hand more fingers than I need to count how many times I’ve done something right the first time around. The last couple of months I finally feel good about my work and I’m learning to appreciate all aspects of it, good and bad. I’m lucky to have six great teachers to push me along and when I take the time to stop and think about my experience I’m proud to have learned so much over the last year.
What is the best advice that you have gotten?
“A good bootmaker should never be totally happy with their work.” – Alan Bell. It may be a little bit dramatic and he meant it to be taken lightly but I think the sentiment is true. Working towards creating great things, boots or otherwise, is a constant process of exploration and improvement. A maker should be able to step back and appreciate when they’ve done something well but at the same time see things they might improve. I think that’s one reason Lee is the incredible maker that he is, he’s never satisfied with the status quo. He is always trying a new technique, tool, material, etc. Nothing is off the table if it helps him create a better boot or even just improves the process.
How do you plan to perpetuate the craft?
I’m spreading the good news of the gospel of handmade cowboy boots left and right and all over social media, as best I can. I benefitted a lot from watching other makers post their work on social media and I’m trying my best to do the same for others. Boots, and footwear in general, are something that people the for granted as just another produced commodity with no clue what goes into making a pair. But! When they realize people still make fine boots by hand they’re usually interested as to how their made. And of course as the apprentice of an apprentice I want to teach young people how to make boots. Apprenticeship is a rare thing and I’m eternally grateful to Lee and Carrlyn for taking me in, I can’t wait to teach someone myself one day.
The Cowboy Bootmakers. Memories and photos collected by Dana Perrotti, 2019.