By Danna Burns-Shaw
When you first meet Brittain Roberts, the self-taught artist and creator of Brit West, you are mesmerized by her sheer beauty. She is an authentic, stunning, high-style Wyoming cowgirl! Brit’s adventuresome life stories are plentiful, as she runs her shop, ranch and well-orchestrated life in the shadow of the majestic Grand Tetons.
Brit has always been a creative adrenaline junkie. How many women do you know that run 20 acres of land with 24 horses (mostly rescues) and want 80 more acres to start a cattle operation? Brit trains and rides colts, mountain bikes, hikes, snowboards and occasionally kite surfs. Makes you wonder how she has time to run her business, which includes a work shop, online store, fashion and road shows.
While pursuing a Fine Art degree in Atlanta, she realized city life was not for her. The thought of working in a high-rise building removed from nature was something that did not interest Brit in the least. After university Brit entered the TV and film industry, where she traveled all over the world. But, while on a film shoot somewhere in East Asia, she realized that she yearned to do something more “purposeful” with her life.
Two months later, she moved to Durango, Colorado where she cut her teeth as a rancher and outfitter. Working with the old leathers and vintage silver from saddles and harnesses that dated back to the 1800s sparked her love of vintage leather. Brit was especially enamored with the high back saddles and hand tooled parade bridles from vintage brands like Keystone Bros. and Visalia, as well as the character of old pawn silver by Comstock.
She began collecting – and out of that sprung a creative, heartfelt journey. After too many “critter crunches” left her with a broken hip, neck and back, she decided to leave the extremely physical work of breaking colts and bucking hay, to pursue her life as a creative artist – using those restored, old leathers that stirred her soul.
While healing from one of those injuries, Brit worked with O’Farrell’s Custom Hat Shop in Durango, learning the ins and outs of the hat trade; it was there she began building hatbands. Inspired by the numerous vintage saddles she worked with at a job on a dude ranch, Brit had the idea to make hat accessories out of vintage leathers.
Brit searched old barns and saddle shops for 1800s teamster driving reins, retired saddle leather, and other old leather goods that shaped the American West. Once acquired, the antique leather required hours of reclaiming, cleaning, conditioning, skiving, sanding and sealing before becoming the backdrop of her unique cuffs, hatbands and belts.
“The excitement of creating and designing these images that start in the mind’s eye really drives me. When you follow your bliss, abundance will follow.” Now residing near Jackson, Wyoming, Brit’s mission is to produce quality, “classic and timeless,” wearable western art; the kind of product passed down through generations and cherished forever.
“Handcrafting is fast becoming a lost art in our world of instant gratification and oversea factory production, but I have long held fast in continuing to produce in house and working with USA artisans to create these visions. My goal is to thrill you with photography and videos (a new learned skill) and keep you asking for more! Focusing on what we choose to create (and being grateful for the blessings along the way) is the key to success.”
Brit continues to seek out old leathers to repurpose for her iconic accessories, capturing the character of the deeply worn leathers – leathers that hold the sweat and stress from decades of baking in the harsh elements and that tough cowboy lifestyle. The leathers represent the spirit of the cowboy’s journey; that spirit in the weathered, old leathers is restored and thoughtfully embellished by Brit, offering folks accessories that capture a uniquely special look and feeling.
Realizing the importance of photography, she has become extremely skilled at capturing the lifestyle she represents. Her photo shoots are primarily held in the stunning red rock regions of the southwest deserts. Being in front of the camera for years gave Brit an understanding of how to get behind the camera, and capture the outcome she desires through the lens of her camera.
Brit never realized she would have to leave her shop as much as she does to make her business successful. As many artists will attest, all they really want is to be in their shop, creating. Not having a storefront, Brit relies on social media and websites, as well as attending several major shows each year. She often braves harsh conditions to get to shows that cater to high-end clientele.
Brit West is a one cowgirl operation. Brit sources the vintage leathers and silver, and works with Native American artists that provide her with rare beautiful turquoise. Once her raw goods are gathered, she retreats to her favorite place – her work bench- where her callused, stained hands create wearable works of art with leather repurposed for a new journey, with a new purpose.
What’s next for Brittain Roberts? She is currently working on a ladies fashion line, and a reality show featuring all of her many adventures. She dreams of owning a full working cattle ranch and/or a taco stand on a sunny beach, while she tackles kite surfing somewhere in paradise. Brit is a truly unique and diverse artist; see her beautiful works at www.britwest.net.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming