Western Art

A Passionate Project   

Pulling craftsmanship from multiple artists, Circle Y Saddles and artist Danielle Powers created a saddle that honors the Western horsewoman. 

Strolling the aisles brimming with all things Western, shoppers at “Cowboy Christmas” during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo may have overwhelmed many, but none kept walking past the hand-tooled, copper-and-turquoise painted Western saddle showcased at the Circle Y Saddles, Inc. booth. The one-of-a-kind saddle drew the eyes of the most novice Western enthusiasts and the most revered horsemen, not only for the saddle quality but for the unique art on the seat and fenders depicting cowgirls in action. 

It was a collaboration that brought together cowgirl artists — a painter in Danielle Powers and a photographer in Courtney Crowley — with saddle makers and the jewelers Love Tokens Jewelry creating the conchos to bring a vision to life. 

Pulling craftsmanship from multiple artists, Circle Y Saddles and artist Danielle Powers created a Western saddle that honors the horsewoman. 
Artist Danielle Powers with the handcrafted saddle at the Circle Y Saddlery booth in Las Vegas. Photo courtesy of Danielle Powers

“Our goal for this saddle was to honor cowgirls and the art of horsemanship,” explains Dara Loudon, senior marketing manager for Circle Y Saddles, Inc. “Building a saddle is an art form, and we wanted to bring together the art of saddle making and this way of life we love. The response is overwhelmingly positive. People are blown away by how beautiful it turned out. We wanted it to be a showpiece design someone could put in their home, and people got it. It’s very satisfying.”

Circle Y, based in Yoakum, Texas, teamed up with Texas artists and barrel racer Danielle Powers for the collaboration. However, Powers, 31, didn’t originally learn about the project in her artist capacity. 

“I do freelance graphic design and work with Circle Y on their email campaigns,” Powers, of Spring Branch, Texas, says. “I started working for them and went to take a tour of the facility, and that was when they told me they had an idea about painting a saddle. I am not sure if they knew I painted at the time. When I saw their idea, I told them I painted and showed them my art. My signature style is copper and turquoise, which fit some conchos that they had from Love Tokens.” 

It was kismet, and the result was a showcase-worthy saddle. 

Powered by Paint

Professionally painting wasn’t something Powers aspired to as a young child. Growing up, Powers’ family wasn’t overtly “horsey.” She began taking riding lessons in the hunter-jumper world, not realizing that her love of speed would lead her to another area of the industry.

“I was always going too fast to do well at jumping, and when I worked for a barrel trainer, that was when I knew what I wanted to do,” Powers says. “I bought and sold horses, trained, did everything I could to work my way up through high school and college rodeo. I drew a little bit, for fun, but I was gung-ho into horses.”

In 2016, after spending a year attempting to qualify for The American barrel race, Powers took a step back from horses and competition. She picked up a paintbrush and, with the help of “YouTube University,” began to create. Her life experiences being based in Arizona with the Army reserves and loving the desert colors, with her natural inclination to create, helped her shape a personal style.

Pulling craftsmanship from multiple artists, Circle Y Saddles and artist Danielle Powers created a Western saddle that honors the horsewoman. 
Ensuring the paint would adhere to the saddle leather was a challenge for Powers, who first drew the art, then applied the layers of acrylic paint. Photo courtesy of Danielle Powers

“It’s mixed media because I add a lot of molding for texture, but I paint with acrylic,” Powers explains. “I use an interior-based paint that is metal-based copper with metal material in it. I can use a chemical compound to pull a patina effect, or I can change it to an iron or rusted look. Then, I seal it in paint acrylic over it. I paint with vibrant colors and movement to change people’s perspective of art. We are so used to the traditional, realistic cowboy or Western colors. I wanted to capture people’s eyes and focus on the powerful movement of the horse and rider, so I wanted the colors to pop. I like natural tones or materials, like copper, wood, metal and stone.”

The paint brought horses back into Powers’ life. While she has worked as a graphic designer and as a social media content creator to pay bills, painting took over professionally.

“The art brought me full circle back into barrel racing,” Powers says. “While I don’t feel the same drive to pursue it professionally, I love barrel racing. It goes together with the art now — it’s the inspiration for the art, and the art lets me continue to barrel race.”

It is that passion and her unique color scheme that Loudon and Circle Y felt would truly highlight their vision of a saddle that honored Western horsemanship and the cowgirl spirit.

Honoring Horsemanship

In the spring of 2023, Loudon attended the Cowgirl Essence Exchange in Fort Worth, Texas, which lit a spark for the Circle Y team to create a project that would bring the essence of a cowgirl to life. Pairing a Bonham Ranch Cutter style saddle with Powers’ art, generated from photographs taken at Art of the Cowgirl’s January 2023 event by photographer Courtney Crowley, was the result.

“We knew we wanted the essence, focus and dedication of a cowgirl,” Loudin says. “We wanted to use it as a conversation piece in our booth at the Superbowl of rodeo! We wanted to draw awareness to Western artistry.”

Between the Circle Y makers and Powers, there are more than 58 hours put into creating the saddle, says Loudon. The ranch cutter style was chosen because it has a broad appeal to many riders.

“Our best artistry points are put into it with the Buster Welch ranch cutter tree, which is reinforced with Kevlar,” Loudon says. “The hand tooling is an Arizona flower design. We modified it to allow for plenty of room for Danielle to paint.”

While her main medium is creating on large canvases, Powers had to scale down her work to fit the saddle. She started the project by sampling how the paint would dry first, then drawing the photos onto the saddle where they best fit: the seat and fenders.

“The saddle was a challenge for me because it was scaled down, an uneven surface and very, very fine lines,” Powers says. “I had several samples that I used to make sure the paint would blend, [and] not crack and dry on the saddle, because we were all concerned about the oils used when making the saddle. I used a primer, and I thought I would be able to tape the tooling and then paint around it, but the tape didn’t stick! I primed it and used a lot of layers, then added the patina. We opted to keep the copper with the turquoise paint. Scaling and the uneven surface were the main challenges.”

Though the saddle took time and considerable thought, the end product was one both Loudon and Powers were proud to showcase in Las Vegas, Nevada. Throughout the 10-day NFR, visitors to Circle Y’s booth entered a drawing to win the saddle, and on Saturday, December 16, Jennifer Cowan was announced as the winner.

While the saddle was a first collaboration, it only inspired Loudon to consider future art partnerships. For Powers, it brought to life a feeling, one she was proud to partake in creating.

“It was like we had a true representation of Western horsewomen through all of these craftsmen that had their hands on the saddle from the rider, photographer, artist and saddle maker,” Powers says. “It is a true tribute!”

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