What inspired you to become a bootmaker?
Since I was a child I always loved the westerns. I loved to wear boots, hats and western clothing. I grew up in the sixties watching Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger and Hopalong Cassidy on Saturday mornings. I even had a Hopalong Cassidy watch. I of course evolved through several fashion trends but always found myself in a pair of boots. I also always had a passion for art. Even as I worked through my years in corporate America as a CPA and running my own technology company I still had the desire to pursue a career that allowed me to express my more creative side.
The cowboy boot seemed to check all of the boxes for me. It is creative, uses color to express emotion, there are very few limitations or rules for design and there is also the feeling that you get when you make something with your own hands that is so fulfilling.
Who were your teachers? What was it like to learn from them?
I have been fortunate enough to work with two of the most accomplished master boot makers that have ever been a part of this craft. I first learned from Lee Miller. I was still working in corporate America at the time But I would drive to Austin on weekends and sometimes holidays and Lee taught me from start to finish how to fit, build out a last, cut patterns and construct a boot. That’s just part of what Lee passed on to me. He also passed on a great deal more of his wisdom and passion.
I later worked with Dave Wheeler and though his style and methods were somewhat different from Lee’s the pursuit of creating a work of art that carries your name was still the same. Though I have learned a great many technical skills from Dave and have certainly learned the business of boot making from Dave oddly enough the one thing that he has taught me that has really freed me up to just let go is that no matter what happens we can fix it. And under his guidance I have “fixed” a few things.
What were some of your early struggles and successes as a young bootmaker?
Even with the best of teachers this is still somewhat of a lonely craft. There are things that you just sometimes have to figure out on your own. There is no substitute for practice and experience. Building a business from nothing is difficult but it is something that again comes from reputation and creating a volume of work to represent who you are as a boot maker. That only comes with time.
The successes, well there is nothing like delivering a pair of boots and see the look on the customer’s face that says that you far exceeded their expectations. They are wearing some that uniquely reflects their personality and a fit the they have never felt before.
What advice would you give to bootmakers just starting out?
This is not a low entry point business. It takes money to buy equipment and there is a learning curve and time to build a customer base. Also learn as much as you can from a master. And for me I love to read so I try to get my hands on as many books and guides as possible.
What are your hopes for the future of the craft?
I don’t know if I really have an answer to that question. I can hope for a lot of things but I think its the attitude of the buying public is what I wish would change. We live in such a disposable society these days. Consumers just want to go to Amazon and have their product delivered the next day. The consumer’s passion for a handcrafted commodity needs to be revitalized if we as craftsmen are going to survive.
I would also like to see more schools and apprenticeships. It should be easier to learn the craft. I think Europe does a much better job of this.
Candela Boot Co. • Mark Candela
The Cowboy Bootmakers. Memories and photos collected by Dana Perrotti, 2019.