What inspired me to become a bootmaker?
I started leather craft in 1970 at the age of ten. I began an apprenticeship in boot repairing at the age of fourteen. I apprenticed in the repair business for five years with a third generation boot maker, Dave Hutchings. I purchased the business from him after my five years of apprenticeship and worked in the repair business the next thirty five years just repairing boots. My first inspiration came from my wife saying I should go back to Dave and have him teach me since he never did while I worked for him.
I had spent forty plus years of my career making every kind of leather good, repairing saddles, tack, boots and shoes. I wanted something new to do in the same field I know and decided boot making was it. I know boots. I like boots and I wear boots so I wanted to make them too.
Who were my teachers?
Dave “Hutch” Hutchings taught me his two week basic course on boot making. I made two pair in that course. I had him available to continue to learn from for the next ten years. Since I started making boots in 2008 I have attended as many instructional classes at The Boot and Saddle makers Roundup that I can. I have utilized online forums and video courses. I have learned many things from various artist in the industry and I have learned something from all of them.
Each one is different and yet each one has some things that are the same. One of the most common things I have learned from every maker is that sharing their knowledge is something they enjoy. Another thing they all have in common is the desire to retain traditional methods and quality of the craft. I am still learning and continue to try to grow through the knowledge of all the makers I know and will meet.
What are some of the early struggles and successes?
Since I have only been making boots ten years now I am still discovering both struggles and success. I think the one struggle is learning that once you think you have it figured out you learn that you don’t! So wisdom tells me, don’t ever think you got it. Add each experience to the next. Measuring and transferring that to making a last that will properly fit is probably my biggest struggle. My biggest success is that a customer comes back for another pair. I have one customer that has now ordered ten pair. I have a few that have ordered two or more. Another success is that I have been asked for advice. Another success is that I have been asked to teach what I know and another was that I was asked to answer these questions. These are successful things to me.
What advice would I give to a young bootmaker?
Don’t be so hard on yourself that you never think you’re good enough. Don’t think you’re not good enough that you won’t charge enough. Never stop asking and trying.
What are my hopes for the future of the craft?
I hope that young artists will find their way to the current masters of the craft, learn from them and keep the heritage alive.
J.B. Custom Leather • Jim Brainard
The Cowboy Bootmakers. Memories and photos collected by Dana Perrotti, 2019.