Archive for the ‘The Blog’ Category



I sew my cantle bindings with the saddle in my lap.


The dealer had a saddle for sale that may have been 80 years old. It was a cowboy rig, plain, unmarked, and well worn. The one thing I remember most about this nondescript saddle was the stitching. It was sewn with linen thread at ten stitches per inch including the bead type cantle binding. I’d seen this before on old saddles, but this time it seemed more meaningful…it caught my attention in a new way. The great care the long gone (and anonymous!) craftsman showed me was impressive. He no doubt understood that the high stitch count did not necessarily make a more durable saddle. 

So why did he go to the extra effort?

The only answer I can think of is that it showed a higher level of craftsmanship and refinement. The shop this saddle came out of was competing for a market share in a context where fine stitching was what the best shops did. 

As time passed by, industry standards would change and the cowboy’s appetite for fine stitching would wane. In my view though, fine sewing is till a mark of fine craftsmanship. Sure, it takes more time to sew a horn or binding at eight stitches per inch rather than five. In fact it takes me more than twice as long to sew a cantle binding at eight instead of five (like I used to do). 

Call me a throwback, a dinosaur, a purist, an addict (all of which I will answer to :)), but I just love the look of fine stitching, and I would like to share that with the kind folks who wait patiently for me to finish the work. 


TCAA 2017


I’m headed off in the morning to meet up with a great group of cowboy craftsmen/artists who bring their A game every year to the show in Oklahoma City.

I’ll also be meeting up with this saddle. This saddle was designed and built in honor of all the brave, horseback women who get it done with grit, determination, and a tender heart. The West would not be the special place it is without their contributions, working tirelessly (often without pay) on ranches striving to hold families and communities together. It is these women, past and present, tough and tender, to whom I dedicate this work.

I buy Saddle Butter by the gallon.

When I worked in a saddle shop in Bozeman, Montana (1983), I became acquainted with a boot/shoe repairman by the name of Howard Pfaff. He loaned me his mare for a team roping that summer, but the thing I remember most about knowing him was something he said. He sold boots as well as having a repair shop, and one of the things he told his new boot customers was that the boots would never be cleaner than when they are new. Therefore it was a good time to treat them with a wax based sealant so that dirt and whatever other stuff would less likely penetrate the fibers of the leather and do some damage. This would stick with me when it came to saddles. Dirt and salt from horse sweat will begin to penetrate the leather the first time you use the saddle. For this reason, I use Ray Holes Saddle Butter to treat everything that will come into direct contact with the horse…back cinch, billets, stirrup leathers and fenders especially. While Saddle Butter is an excellent conditioner, the wax in it makes a good barrier to prevent dirt and sweat from doing their damage. After applying, I allow it to ‘soak’ in for a day or two and then buff off any waxy residue because a sticky surface will collect dust. Sarah Rowley now owns the Ray Holes Leather Care Products and operates out of Butte, Montana. She is the great grand daughter of Ray Holes. She, and her grandfather Gerald Ray Holes often set up a booth at the Sheridan Leather Show in May. Follow this link to her website: Ray Holes Leather Care

Morgan McArthur


Morgan McArthur, Cary Schwarz summer 2016

Morgan McArthur, Cary Schwarz summer 2016

I first met Morgan McArthur DVM in 1984. He was a fairly new graduate of vet school and working with a couple other guys in a clinic in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He was gregarious, witty, smart, and perhaps even a bit intimidating to some. I was living about 2.5 hours away in Salmon, Idaho at the time, but we wound up running into one another because of mutual friends. As things turned out, we moved to the Idaho Falls area in 1992, and I remember telling Morgan that I might be seeing him more often. I had no idea that it would be quite as often as it turned out. He had been a member of a Toastmasters International club that was meeting weekly and he was singing the praises of his involvement there. I’m not sure what it was that he saw in me that prompted him to invite me to a meeting, but I became a member for the nearly five years we lived in the area. The experience helped me with the communication skills that I was lacking in many areas.

An avid lover of all things well done, Dr. McArthur will be our keynote speaker at the TCAA sponsored Western Craftsmanship Symposium. He is a mixture of Baxter Black and Robin Williams and has a speech prepared for an audience of artists/craftsmen that I know will be well received. We’re privileged to have such a high caliber speaker for our inaugural event. Here is his bio for the Symposium:

Dr. Morgan McArthur’s life path has more zigs and zags than Frankenstein’s appendectomy scar.

He’s been a large animal veterinarian in the cowboy culture of the American West. He once bested 20,000 other speakers to become Toasmasters International’s World Champion of Public Speaking. He has completed five Ironman triathlons (2.4 mi swim, 112 mi bike, 26 mi run). He was a research vet in New Zealand for a decade.  He has been speaking professionally for over a dozen years and has shared the speaking platform with Nobel Prize winners, Olympic gold medalists and national heroes.

With a broad range of life experiences and barely-tamed enthusiasm he creates memorable meaning from ordinary occurrences. His stories sparkle with surprise to inspire audiences to shift their perspective and lift their lives.

Morgan’s personal motto – ‘If it isn’t fun, it shouldn’t be done’ – and a talent for making sound sense and sound effects makes it very hard for people in his audience to think about their grocery list when he’s speaking.

At the core of all of Morgan’s programs is the OneWithFun philosophy – that a positive perspective builds balance, busts boredom and helps with health – factors that give juice to life’s journey.


You can sign up for this event here.


cantle binding 4Tim is an attorney from Boston for whom I’ve done work for over the years. We talk on the phone occasionally about horses, saddles, and life. I consider him a thoughtful friend. Yesterday he was asking about building another pair of chaps…’says he’s got a new horse that he wants to show this summer. I explain that I’m way overbooked, especially this summer.

“I don’t seem to get as many saddles done these days even though I’ve never been more confident and efficient. I think it’s because I can’t resist the temptation to make stuff a little nicer all the time.”

“That’s because you’re an awwtist.” He says with an exaggerated New England brogue.

Well ok, I’m thinking: I’ve been called worse names…

“I seem to be adding more time to my projects, so I don’t get as many done.”

“You’re strength is also your weakness.” He says matter-of-factly.

Your strength is also your weakness… I couldn’t have said it better myself.

In our day and time, time is money like never before. It’s easy to become a slave to the clock because of what it represents. The pressure of getting things done quickly is something working folks know all too well. But high quality work, especially if it also involves creativity, operates under a different set of rules. Creativity and improving the level of craftsmanship don’t tend to thrive under the pressure of time. At least not the kind of pressure that is unmanaged. I’ve found that the clock is a good servant, but a piss poor master. And it’s taken many years of persistence to achieve something of a balance with regard to the clock and it’s demands.

Maybe that’s why I rarely resist the temptation to add time to a project “just to make it a little nicer.”

Thankfully my very patient customers seem to appreciate that my strength is also my weakness.

Floral design/carving class held in the brand new public library in Salmon, Idaho.

Floral design/carving class held in the brand new public library in Salmon, Idaho.

We hosted a floral design/carving class on April 15 & 16 this spring. It was a jamb-packed two days with a larger class than usual…this one more than filled up as soon as I announced it. We started out the first day showing how to ‘gesture draw’. This is a technique I learned from our good friend Wilson Capron who referenced a book written in the early part of the twentieth century by an art educator by the name of Kimon Nicolaides. This technique helps us start a ‘conversation’ with the paper and helps free up our minds and hands to get rough information down. These drawings are preparatory for the next step, which is to identify construction lines within a flower/leaf/stem/etc. We then learned how to ‘build’ our design around these basic construction lines. There was time allotted to demonstrating these techniques. I call this designing out of ‘whole cloth’ as we are not using any tap offs or the like. I believe this helps us become more proficient at designing high quality original work.



The evening of the first day we gathered in my shop where I took a close look at each student’s swivel knife. Many needed some attention to get the edge geometry and keenness up to speed. The next morning we began learning about a pressure and release style of swivel cutting. Later, we discussed stamping tool selection and progression. Here as well was time for demonstrating with tools and leather.

Each student was encouraged to spend some time each day from then on doing a little gesture drawing along with some construction line-type drawing. Starting the next day, I emailed reminders to each person with a picture that they could use for their drawing practice. As of this writing we are just over the half way point of a thirty day period that these drawing assignments will go out. I think the folks are having fun with this rhythm and I’m looking forward to their feedback after our month together has ended. It was a great privilege to have these folks travel into our valley from California, Nebraska, Washington, Montana, North Dakota, and Idaho. I think we all learned something!

The August Wolters barn, now known as the 'Schwarz Barn' Todd Craig photo.

The August Wolters barn, now known as the ‘Schwarz Barn’ Todd Craig photo.

Heinrich August Wolters (b. 1870) raised a barn very near the place that I would one day be raised as well. The year was 1930, not long after the Great Crash of ’29, but hay had to be stored, teams harnessed, and cows milked. Though the near future looked bleak, there was a family to feed and children educated. We know this because August Wolters would be instrumental in also building a parochial school in the little community near Eden, Idaho. This community would become known in the surrounding area as ‘The Dutch Settlement’. They were part of a sustained wave of immigration from Germany that began in the mid-1800’s, and was sparked by pressure from the state church to change their theology. These dissenters were referred to as ‘Old Lutherans’ and would leave their homeland, uncomfortable with the dictates of what was known as the ‘Prussian Union‘.  A portion of these folks wound up in farming communities in Idaho where they would remain in tight knit groups with German as their main language until World War II when folks with such a heavy German heritage were suspect. These people found themselves under societal pressure to change once again, but this time they had already gladly donned the mantle ‘Americans’. Many sons served in the military during this time as testament to their allegiance. August and his wife Emma were descendants of some of these German immigrants who had fled the old country.

My great grandfather Wolters was the patriarch of a part of this clan just north of the Snake River in Jerome County, and the family needed a barn. His German engineering mind would be a valuable blessing in many of his endeavors. The design of the barn was testament to his abilities. The roof was to be a supported in an unconventional way. My father Bernard Schwarz held that this design was Grandpa Wolters own, though later he was told by his older brother Paul that it was an idea that had survived the Atlantic. Perhaps it was a bit of both… August Wolters’ ingenuity, along with some ideas from Germany that he remembered. From inside the loft, you see a pattern of diamond shapes that support the roof. Each board was cut on a curve that would give the outside of the roof its curved profile. This cut would have to be changed as the the curve of the roof changes from the eaves to the top of the ridge. At the points of the diamonds, the wood is joined by a heavy bolt. There are no traditional fasteners (nails or pegs) holding the roof together. I remember my grandfather T.J. Schwarz (b. 1896) telling me that his father-in-law August Wolters decided to pour the concrete walls higher than the norm of the day (36″) stating that “those mules could kick that all they want!”. (…makes me wonder what kind of mules they had back then!) Mules where used often on the farm cultivating beans in part, because they had much smaller feet than the draft horse breeds as they walked the narrow rows.  My dad (b. 1933) tells of sitting on a bean cultivator as a very young boy behind a team, beneath the Idaho sky, arid and blue.

This barn would be an unending source of adventure for my cousins and I growing up nearby. Rope swings, hide-and-seek, cowboys and Indians, tag, bird hunting, and unbridled joy were the order of the day under the roof that August Wolters built. These days I see the barn fall into disrepair, the Idaho wind and weather abrading what once was a magnificent building. But the roof that August built survives as a metaphor, especially for those of us with his bloodline. He passed away six years before I was born, but I see his imprint on our family to this day.  His love for his family and his commitment to ensure that they were afforded spiritual care and a good education otherwise is a legacy worthy of note. Whether we realize it or not, we (that is, our family) are living out our vocations under the roof that Grandpa August Wolters built.

Interior of the Schwarz Barn.

Interior of the Schwarz Barn. Todd Craig photo.



Christmas 2015 001I hadn’t seen Ray for several years when I ran into him at a horse sale. As we got caught up on each other’s lives, he reminded me of a day years ago when he and I were gathering cattle. Riding across a grassy meadow, we happened upon a friend of mine who had been staying at the ranch at Kilgore, Idaho. Duane was in a bit of a jam…his 1952 Willys flat fender had stalled while crossing a dry creek bed. He said that he thought a short pull start would get it going again. I threw a loop around one end of the front bumper and told Ray to get one on the other. We pulled the jeep out of the creek bed and into the meadow as the little four cylinder motor sprang to life with a pop.

Ray spoke wistfully of that day in the meadow at the ranch. If you had stumbled onto the scene without knowing what year it was, you’d have thought it was long ago and far away. It seemed like a time warp, a throw-back to a simpler life where a pull start was all that was needed to help someone on their way. Many of us who’ve lived long enough to see lots of change often yearn for an unscrambled life, disentangled from so many things that call our name.

In this season of hope, I pray that you can know the peace that surpasses all human understanding even though life has had its way with you. God’s blessings on your journey.

The Outside View


outside viewIn his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman speaks about how difficult it is to take the outside view. We get ingrained with our ways of thinking and have a very tough time regarding any other point of view. While gathering up an arm load of wood the other night, I thought the shop space looked different and interesting from outside. I’ll try to look at more things from an outsider’s point of view in the new year. Perhaps I’ll discover something that has been hiding in plain view.

Never Stop Learning


Photo taken in the cathedral in Toulouse, France in 2009 courtesy Cary Schwarz.

Photo taken in the cathedral in Toulouse, France in 2009 courtesy Cary Schwarz.

Be a life long learner.