Archive for May 2012 | Monthly archive page

Cowboys & Indians


Best Of The West 2012:

Beauty Meets Function In Cary Schwarz Saddles

© Ilona McCarty-Open View Photography

In an unassuming workshop overlooking the snowcapped mountains of central Idaho, saddler Cary Schwarz is plying a centuries-old trade that he imbues with contemporary flair. An artist attuned to the heritage of the American cowboy, Schwarz produces museum-quality saddles — prized for their carved flowers, sewn bindings, and dyed reliefs, all done by hand — that are in high demand among collectors and working cowboys alike.

“I’m trying to produce something with elegance that is for everyday use,” says Schwarz, a founding member of the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association (TCAA). A tall, lean man whose manner is as reserved as his saddles are expressive, Schwarz has molded, carved, and hand-stitched American tanned leather to that nexus where functional and fine arts meet.

“Cary is expressing himself artistically through his vocation as a saddler, making functional saddles in tried-and-true Western tradition,” says Don Reeves, McCasland chair of cowboy culture at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, host to the annual Cowboy Crossings exhibition and sale, which is held jointly by TCAA and the Cowboy Artists of America every October. In addition to having his work showcased at the event in 2011, Schwarz received the Academy of Western Artists Saddlemaker of the Year award in 2009 and the Idaho Governor’s Award in the Arts for Excellence in Folk and Traditional Arts in 2010.

These days he’s also focused on teaching the craft; tutoring rising saddlers from the United States, France, Germany, and Spain; and passing on his goal to “help folks see traditional forms in a new way.” Willing to abide by the dictates of an age-old art, this preeminent saddler seeks to infuse a lasting symbol of the American West with a modern twist: “I want my work to trace the complex narratives of where we have been, where we are, and where we are going.”


Rick & Marcia


The first saddle Cary made for us was in 1997. Already Cary had a reputation for doing
thoughtful and meticulous work, and we couldn’t have been more pleased or proud of
that saddle. It is still as beautiful and functional today, as it was the day we picked it up.
Since then Cary has gone on to make many beautiful saddles, and we are pleased that
we have five of them. We cowboy for a living and our saddles are pretty much used
everyday. Cary has made us all kinds from swell to slick fork, and each one is balanced
to the eye as well as the horse. One of the things that is pretty cool about having Cary
make you a saddle is after your saddle is a year old, Cary likes to have it back, to take it
apart, clean it, and see how its wearing, and working out. Cary has an interest in each
saddle he makes, and each client he makes the saddle for. His excitement and joy for
his trade is evident. He is a continual student of the craft, as well as a gracious teacher.
As clients he has walked us through each of our choices and shares his thoughts on
what might work out good for each of us. Now Cary’s saddle are exquisite, but this is
what Rick has to say about his Schwarz saddles, “they are durable, functional, look
good and makes my horses and my butt happy”.

Rick and Marcia, New Mexico