Bitmakers transformed blank Santa Barbara-style cheekpieces into functional works of art for a special bit-making contest.

The Great Basin Gear Show, held every winter during the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, is a place to see and purchase the work of top craftsmen in leather, silver, rawhide and other mediums. This year, hosts John and Susan Wright, owners of J.M. Capriola Company, added a bit-making contest to the show that became a must-see attraction.  

Last summer John Wright announced a bit-making contest and sale to benefit the newly restored and opened Cowboy Arts & Gear Museum in the old residence and saddle shop of G.S. Garcia at 542 Commercial St., in Elko. Wright found several blank cheekpieces patterned by G.S. Garcia and cut out by Les Garcia in storage and thought it was an opportunity to challenge the skills and creativity of emerging and established craftsmen, and give them the chance to win more than $6,000 in prize money and have their work displayed in the show.

Participants paid $250 to enter and received a pair of cheekpieces to build their bits. By January, Wright had received 13 entries (shown in slideshow above) that were numbered then judged on function, skill and artistry. Each bit sold during the show, with the high-seller and first-place bit made by the Wolf family in Nevada going for $4,000. Proceeds from the entry fees and sales went to the Cowboy Arts & Gear Museum, which was developed in honor of Wright’s mother, Paula Wright.

Entries are being accepted for the next contest, which features the Nevada cheekpiece. For more information, call 775-389-1713 or visit cowboyartsandgearmuseum.org.

Bitmakers in order of appearance in slideshow: The Wolf family (page 2-3), John Peters (page 4-5), Chris Cheney (page 6-7), J.D. Moss (page 8-9), Jeremiah Watt and Nevada Miller (page 10-11), Dennis Domingos (page 12-13), G. Duncan (page 14-15), George Elsner (page 16-17), Conor Leveille (page 18-19), Gary Johnson (page 20-21), Curtis Hill (page 22-23), Travis Clelland (page 24-25), Pat Horlacher (page 25-27).

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