In my last post, I wrote about the colorful characters and movie stars who came to our saddle shop in New Mexico. The most memorable customer was a cowboy (at least he drove a pickup and wore cowboy boots and hat like most other guys in New Mexico) named Bruce.
We made Bruce a saddle, and the process of ordering a custom made saddle often takes months before anything is actually started. The first step involves general “shooting the shit” and getting to know each other a bit. After all, it is a big investment in money for the customer (and time for us!). There are a bunch of details that need to be considered before ordering the saddle tree, the starting point for the whole thing. How long do you want the seat? What kind of horn? What sort of swells? How high do you want the cantle? What kind of horse do you have? How big are its withers? What sort of riding do you do? Where should the beer holder go? (just seeing if you’re still with me…!)
Sometimes this step goes pretty quickly and sometimes it takes months. With Bruce, I believe that we spent probably 2-3 months of visits every few weeks to reach the point where an order was placed. We always want to get to know the customers, so one of the first questions was “Hey, Bruce, what do you do?” He was pretty shy about answering and finally admitted that he was an artist. “What sort of art do you do?” “Weird stuff”, he answered. “Where do you show your work (expecting one of the several dozen world-class art galleries in Santa Fe)?” “I don’t have my work in town”, he answered. (My first reaction was, “loser”…)
Bruce’s saddle turned out very nicely. My boss John made much of it, but I braided a rawhide horn, added appliqué braids to his stirrups, and did all the hand stitching. He liked it, and during the process we discovered that he made beautiful knives (now my opinion of his talents increased, even though he still didn’t show in a local gallery…).
Bruce wanted a pair of McClellan-style saddle bags, and I wanted a knife. We agreed to trade. When it was time to pick the shape, style, and materials for the knife, my wife and I went to his house near Pecos. It was just a normal but nice adobe-style place somewhere in the boonies like most places around Santa Fe. He first took us into his knife-making shop where we looked at materials and some pieces in progress. After we had decided what we wanted, he agreed to show us his art studio. It was huge! And on the walls were huge line drawings in different colors of men doing Nazi goose steps in a line, and at the top of the step, they had an erection. All I could say was “yeah, it is pretty weird…”
When we left Santa Fe for me to return to college (more on that soon), we were planning a trip to NYC. Bruce told us where we could see some of his work when we were there. Fresh out of the woods and saddle shop in Santa Fe, with one infant in arms, we went to the Leo Castelli gallery and told them that we were friends with Bruce Nauman and that he told us that we could see some of his work there.
The red carpet was rolled out for us (probably the scruffiest people to set foot in the gallery), and they gave us a quick Art History lesson about Bruce Nauman: work in almost every major museum in the world, major influential figure in contemporary art, “L’Enfant Terrible” of the art world…
Who would’ve guessed?