Craftsmen / Western Art

Master Makers

The Art of the Cowgirl Foundation supports aspiring craftsmen through its Fellowship Program, which paired master bit and spur maker Wilson Capron with Carlee Stutz in 2023.

Annually, Art of the Cowgirl draws spectators, vendors and competitors to Queen Creek, Arizona, to showcase the best of the cowgirl West. In addition to the horsemanship skills on display in 2023, eight fellowship recipients were on-hand with their master instructor to discuss the learning opportunity they had with that master through the Art of the Cowgirl Foundation.

Photo by Kate Bradley Byars

Two recipients studied horsemanship and fine art, and one recipient each studied videography, saddle making, hat making and bit making. Capron, who is based in Christoval, Texas, lent his vast experience to Stutz, who lives and works in Burns, Oregon, to enable the next generation of makers.

“Tammy Pate asked me to be an instructor before, but I had conflicts. Last year, I did a couple workshops and donated a bit to the silent auction. I was honored to do it,” Capron says. “Being a member of the [Traditional Cowboy Artist Association], our role is to promote and preserve the discipline. I’ve had six workshops a year and have for many years, so I am here to help. I love helping people, passing the knowledge I have and keeping the trade going. I don’t want to be a schoolteacher; I love making the bits and spurs, but anyone that wants to take the time to learn, I love to help. The quality of craftsmanship is selfish to me, but it is exciting to share that journey with folks that want to learn and know.”

Photo by Kate Bradley Byars

Stutz was excited for the opportunity to hone her skill with Capron as well as talk shop — the ins and outs of the bit making business. She currently works for Pat Hollicker and Ernie Marsh on their production line of bits based in Burns. Her goal, though, is to be a maker that blends custom and production.

“Wilson is known around the world for being one of the best in the industry for what he does,” she says. “Even if I could take a small slice of what he knows and apply it to what I am doing, it would be a great asset. I want to go fulltime, but I am still working a day job. This is my passion, and I work at night.”

Through the fellowship, Stutz not only learned applicable skills for crafting ornate and functional bits, but the behind-the-scenes needs of a successful maker. She’s currently making jewelry to help facilitate her bit-making dreams.

Photo by Kate Bradley Byars

“Hard work is what it takes. As a maker, you need to dedicate your time and focus on your craft, and while it isn’t easy, if you stay the course, you can make it,” she says.

For more information on the Art of the Cowgirl Fellowship Program and to view past recipients, visit artofthecowgirl.com.

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