What inspired you to become a bootmaker?
I was inspired to learn boot making by my then, sister-in-law. She really kind of got on my case and ask my why I wasn’t learning this wonderful and dying art that my father could teach me. I hadn’t really considered it before, but the more I thought about it, the more appealing it became to me. It took me over a year to talk my dad into it. He didn’t think girls were strong enough to do it. He finally agreed to teach me after I left my husband. I think he thought it was a way to get me back home so he could look after me and my daughter. I don’t think he thought I’d stick with it.
Who were your teachers?
My father L.W. McGuffin was my only hands on teacher. Once I learned the basics, I picked up styles and techniques from other boot makers. That’s when Tyler Beard’s boot books were coming out. All those great photos of all the others boot artists work, I was like a kid in a candy store.
What were some of your early struggles and successes as a young bootmaker?
I think my hardest struggle in the early days was being taken seriously as a woman in a traditionally male field. There were quite a few women top makers through the years, but none that I knew of that were making the whole boot. Melody Dawkins and I were both making boots in the early 1980s.
A couple of memorable early successes were participating in the Master Artist and Apprenticeship program through the New Mexico Arts Division starting in the late eighties that consequently led to participating as part of the New Mexico program at the 1992 Festival of American Folklife at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. I still participate in the Master Artist/Apprenticeship program.
What advice would you give to young bootmakers just starting out?
Number one advice is to number your boots. I have no idea how many pairs I’ve made over the years and I’d really like to know that. Look at other people’s work. There is always something to learn regardless if the work is impeccable or a little rough. Make your style your own. You never truly have competition from other boot makers. Our styles and work are all very different. Most people have a style preference and are drawn to a particular look. Try to generate magazine/newspaper articles, have your work on some kind of social media, give demonstrations for museums, civic clubs etc. Consider doing a boot raffle to benefit your favorite charity. It’s been my experience that these things will bring in more business than paid advertising ever will. Anytime someone admires the boots you’re wearing, hand them a business card.
What are your hopes and expectations for the future of the craft?
I am excited about the future of boot making. There are so many younger people coming into the business now. I’m teaching all the time and several other makers are teaching as well. As an industry, we have to constantly educate the public about our product. The corporate footwear industry is all about cheap and disposable. We can’t compete price wise so we have to elevate the awareness of the public as to the benefits of FIT.
McGuffin Custom Boots • Deana McGuffin
The Cowboy Bootmakers. Memories and photos collected by Dana Perrotti, 2019.