Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Saddles of Kathleen Bond

This post covers both model and full scale Western saddles built by the talented Kathleen Bond.  I have long wanted to present my Bond collection;  and recently I was fortunate enough to receive photos of yet another of her fantastic fully-tooled real Western saddles.  Bond.  Kathleen Bond!!

I first encountered Kathleen Bond in the early 1990s in the flyers of Hartland Collectables.  She had made their saddles and tack.  At the time only Breyer had sold mass-produced saddles to go with their model horses, so another company's efforts were very intriguing.  Hartland's tack offerings were quite beautiful, densely tooled and nicely detailed compared to Breyer's.  They were more expensive, but it was the incredible detail of the tooling that really set them apart.  These saddles, mass-produced though they obviously were, all had the stamp of quality about them... the unifying vision of a single artist.

I never did manage to purchase any Hartland tack directly, but a few years later I was starting my own Kathleen Bond saddle collection.  Note that none of these blankets were hers (they were all supplied by me later).  I never collected bridles by her.
I currently have eight of these distinct miniature masterpieces.  Six were purchased directly from Kathleen.  She told me she'd rather be called Kathleen (not Kathy).  She was located in central Ohio and made a living selling leather carved purses, belts, wallets, small leather goods ... real saddles ... and model saddles of her own manufacture.   There must be thousands of Bond model saddles out there.  You can always tell a Bond by the flat rivets for conchos, the thin white felt lining, the large girth-buckles, the overall wide-back shape, the tubular eyelet stirrup-necks and the details of the tooling.

Having been in the model horse hobby for 39 years, I forgive myself if I get Carol Howard and Kathleen Bond a little mixed up.  They were of similar age and both were very talented artists.  Both made model horse tack over a long period of time.  Both of these women never made it over the digital divide; they belonged to the mail order years.  I met and spoke with both of them.  And yeah, my memory tells me they looked kind of alike: both were heavy, dark haired and dark eyed.

Carol Howard lived in Arizona and made every kind of model tack:  English, Western, Silver Parade, Peruvian, Harness, Sidesaddle and more.  She made all her own bits from wire and solder and supplied other model tackmakers with them for many years.  She designed and drew carousel horse pictures and published them in Carousel News & Trader.  Carol sculpted model horses; Kathleen did not (that I know of).  Carol did not, so far as I know, make belts or purses, let alone full scale saddles.  Carol rarely travelled and I believe she stayed in Sierra Vista until she died (2018).

Kathleen Bond made only one kind of model tack:  Western Saddles.  She made them with great attention to the principles of mass production, and did it in a way I've never seen any other model tackmaker do.  Her initial investment must have been huge, but her method resulted in one person's being able to produce what must have been thousands of detailed pieces.  Kathleen Bond saddles can all be distinguished by their tooling, which isn't tooling at all but embossing (stamping without cutting the surface).
Somehow she had dies made, metal stamping plates or rolls, that could stamp out entire fenders, jockeys and skirts at a time.  She started with 3 patterns, squash blossom, oak leaf and one I don't remember (possibly laurel branch).  Later she added something called Prairie Rose, a triangular basketweave, seen below.  There may have been other patterns.  The rose saddle on the left (below) was done with a smaller stamp (it is not carved, that is, freehand tooled).

I should add that the breastcollar on the Prairie Rose saddle was done by me in an attempt to match her style, as this saddle was not originally equipped with a breastcollar.
The patterns were scale-able, as proved by my Classic-scale saddle being exactly the same pattern as the natural-colored Round Skirt in front of it.  Options for her saddles included seat stitching.  She could do silver-laced cantles by glueing on a strip of glitter cord (again as above).  Round skirt vs square, silver trim as on my precious brown saddle (2nd pic below, pink blanket), tapaderos as on my black saddle, woven rope horns, etc.,
resulted in quite a variety of pieces over the years.  (My notes say the tapaderos had to be glued in place; I feel they should have been riveted but they were an aftermarket purchase.)  I have always regretted I could not get one of her Silver Saddles.  She had them the last year she was at BreyerFest (2006).  She was in one of the hotel rooms by then and the two of us had quite a talk.  I retain a memory of colored Mylar-like metallic sheeting on the saddles, stamped and glued, in greens, purples, blues and pinks.  Alas, I must have been broke --- I passed up the chance.

Yes, BreyerFest:  that was where I finally met her in person.  She had a booth for her business, K B Leather Art, on the concourse of the main arena, starting probably around 1998 (it may have been earlier but that's the date of my first purchase from her) and ending prior to 2006.  I have a photo which gives an idea of her booth in the year 2000:
This epic shot was the start of a complete new adventure for me!!  which I have shared elsewhere (link below).  This full scale saddle was made entirely by Kathleen, rawhide braiding and all.  Neither my friend Eleanor nor myself could quite believe the sheer audacity of it, and we documented the whole thing.  Eleanor still remembers me jumping up and down.  This saddle was the inspiration for Timaru Star II #423, built in 2001.  There is a complete page on my website about it:  Eleanor's saddle, TSII #423. 

 Kathleen later told me she personally knew Bruce Grant.  I have letters from her discussing her tricks of the trade.  If you could stand her style of conversation she was a good friend.  In a hobby full of individualistic artists, she stands out in my memory:  intensely self-absorbed, slow of speech, yet so talented, so single-minded.  She was a fount of history about leather braiding and tooling, and (I think) contributed to the Leather Worker's Journal.  She taught me how to do braided-rawhide stars.  Kathleen gave me a five-pound marble tooling block (I had told her the year before how I used Masonite) which I still use today.

Here is a black and silver full-scale saddle of hers:
Her signature horse-head is on the fender.

As I said at the beginning, I was fortunate enough to be recently given photos of yet another beautiful saddle by this Ohioan.  There are saddles and there are saddles, but this one was like a portrait of the artist's soul.
 While I don't know for sure, it is highly likely Kathleen drew all these pictorials herself.
 And did her own engraving. 
 She liked cats...
  I've been inspired once before by this artist's full scale saddles.  It isn't too much to imagine it could happen again!!

If it weren't for a certain much-too-long-anticipated book, finally getting underway and slowly being written and drawn ...  ... or for another much-too-long-awaited model saddle, with bits and pieces of it already done...  ... I would be making this pictorial saddle in miniature sooner.  Let's just say that after a year of wandering far afield looking for inspirational pieces, I finally found one.  The TSII is still alive and producing.

Kathleen Bond's leather work is timeless, whether or not she is still producing.  She had the most universally admired artistic vision -- her work was collected all over the world.  Two years ago (2016) I found out she had even planned ahead for her own tombstone.   I was sent a picture.  Incredibly, the stone is in the shape and form of a fully-carved Western Saddle.
But it had only the birth date on it.

Bond.  Kathleen Bond!!

Friday, November 2, 2018

A New Nose Cone

Which is the more enticing title, Repairing the Needle Awl or A New Nose Cone?!  Fixing one's favorite tackmaking tools can be demanded at any time -- usually when you least expect it! -- no matter how many times you've tried to make them strong in the past.  Fortunately, this fix was relatively easy; and I'm feeling pretty good about its longevity.

I was happily tightening braided buttons when this happened:
If there was a crack, I hadn't noticed.  There was only a bit of wobbliness in the shaft.  This Needle Awl is my absolute favorite of my three homemade tools for model tack.  (The other two are the Stitchmarker and the Needle Chisel.)  The Needle Awl is my fid -- the awl essential for braidwork.  In theory, any ice pick could do the job.  In practice, I made this tool with a wooden dowel and a big needle after years of using just a handheld needle to be my fid.  A search of my years of tack pix turned up a tantalizing glimpse of a bare dowel with one button back in 2006:
Of course this shot was not intended to be documenting the Needle Awl!!  It shows a practice braidwork medallion for a saddle (TSII #445).  But it does show one of many uses for the Awl:  enlarging slits for applique braiding.
Without actually digging through my N.A. Notebooks (tack notes), but going only through pictures, I discovered this piece of dowel existed by November of 2005 and was covered in braid by February of 2008.  I had forgotten it had existed so long bare.  Somewhat unlike me, the tool is not dated, only signed.  :(

It has a history of not being quite strong enough to withstand the stresses and strains of the job, as do my other tools.  When the nose cone came off, it was clear the wood had been deeply fractured for a long time:
Now what??!!  I was in the middle of a braidwork job and hated to stop, but tool repair kind of outweighs everything else.  I got to a stopping place and concentrated on fixing the Awl.  Could I slide the buttons off?   The black front button came off, but only one other was loose enough to turn - and it wasn't the end button.  I was getting curious as to what was in there.  This could be my chance to fix and strengthen the Awl once and for all.

I peeled off the linings under the black front button.  This braided-leather button is no different in its formula from the big central one, despite being a tapered cone shape.  It was done over a tapered core (very likely this dowel) and hand-shaped to its present form.
Got down to bedrock, to quote Enid Bagnold (of National Velvet).  It was clear what I had done in the past.  I'd soldered a needle into a brass tube, then into another larger tube, and stuck it in the dowel.  It was also clear what came next:  Smoothing the join and making a new nose cone.
I found a matching dowel that had already been rounded, and hacked off a tip.
 Next, I made a hole, using various drill bits.  Then I enlarged the hole with files and knives.
This is the ugly stage, where you just have to put in the time.  Sawdust everywhere, patience in evidence.  Test-fitting over and over.   It was difficult to get a 'step' inside the hole when most of my tools were straight, but an X-Acto helped.  I got closer and closer; sheer force was used some, as at this scale plain squeezing can help shape wood.
Time to glue.  I separated the gluing from the shaping, thus spanning two days, giving my spirits time to recover and (even better) giving everything time to dry.
Elmer's to the rescue, (my wood glue having died some years ago).  On the second day, I returned to find a very small gap and a solid join. 
 Next came filing.  A LOT of filing.  Here's where having a heavy-duty, non-model-horse-scale wood file comes in handy.  Even my fingernail file got put to work.
Sawdust everywhere!   Again, this is the ugly stage.
An unusual thing happened.  The needle was not centered, but leaned a little (I had known this).  The nose cone was filed down by feel, not (necessarily) by eye; thus, more wood was left on the side the needle tilted towards, making up weight and mass.  This was to balance the asymmetry.  'Twas all going to be hidden by the black button anyway!  I didn't bother to varnish the wood, only smoothing it off with a fine file.

Strapping tape, or nylon-fibres tape, is an old friend when it comes to tool handles; it doesn't get sticky with age and doesn't shift or compress, staying relatively inert if protected.  Really embarrassing to admit I didn't have a roll of strapping tape in the house -- !  I reused the old pieces and found another strip nearby (the recycling spirit of a Front Range Coloradan has to be seen to be believed).  The black Gorilla tape I had used previously (see pictures 5, 6 & 7) I didn't want to reuse, as its feel was too spongy.
 Things were looking up.  Now if only the black button wasn't too loose!  But it went beautifully snugly, having to be forced slowly back into place.  A tight fit: perfect.

My beloved Needle Awl is ready for many more years of service.