Here is an article I wrote for the current issue of the Leather Crafters and Saddlers Journal:
On October 12, 2013, soft-spoken Robert Raber made his way methodically through the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association gallery at the National Cowboy Museum. The Cowboy Crossings sale and exhibition in Oklahoma City has become a must see event for Raber, a saddlemaker from an Amish community in Coalgate, Oklahoma. The annual show presents Raber and his fellow craftsmen with a unique opportunity to see work at a high level of creativity and craftsmanship. Every year, craftsmen of all abilities come to see ornate and often complex bits, spurs, saddles, rawhide braidwork, and silverwork… and participate in the numerous lectures and workshops offered by the TCAA. In the fifteen year history of the Association, the craftsmen/artists who have taken advantage of these opportunities number in the hundreds. The TCAA is a non-profit organization with a heavy emphasis on education and their annual exhibit is the leading edge of this effort. The yearly gathering has become a reunion of sorts for the members, their collectors, and perhaps most importantly their fellow craftsmen making their way through life earning a living with their hands and their hearts.
This fall marked the second year that the TCAA Fellowship was awarded. Steve Mason, a veteran saddler from High River, Alberta was selected to receive the $12,000 fellowship that he can use to travel to visit several of the TCAA saddlemakers in order to advance his skills.
This year’s show was a success by nearly every measure. As of this writing, approximately eighty percent of the pieces have sold for a value of $407,249. A portion of these proceeds go to the National Cowboy Museum as well as the TCAA, which have strikingly similar mission statements. For Robert Raber though, the only numbers that are important to him are the dates of next year’s show and another opportunity to reconnect with the TCAA family, gather information and inspiration to help him become a better saddlemaker.