By Danna Burns-Shaw
Doing these feature articles for Shop Talk! really inspires the senses. Speaking with Douglas Krause made me realize the importance that others have in the making of an accomplished artist. Mentorship brings out the best in the giver…and the receiver. During the entire interview, Douglas was graciously giving credit to the folks listed below. Throughout his story, these important individuals helped Douglas Krause become the remarkable saddle and rope maker that he is today. Douglas is a curious, lifetime student that loves giving credit to others; those wonderful traits have certainly assisted in providing a long, successful career.
However, something else plays a part in Douglas’ greatness – the ability to discover what he calls his “muse” that lives deep within him and how his muse yearns to be released through the artistry it was inspired by. Once unleashed, his heart and hands become one in the molding, cutting, carving, painting, staining, stitching and striking that has become his trademark style. Stunning, remarkable works of heirloom-quality masterpieces…that his two hands and “muse” create together.
Douglas never took an art class in high school; he chose math and science classes over the elective art classes. His first art class was at the University of Northern Colorado. Attending his first ever art class brought both fear and excitement, but he quickly discovered that he really enjoyed drawing. The only family member that was artistic was an uncle who was a sculptor, so he really had no reason to believe he would be artistic.
Douglas found he had a genuine interest in art, but traveling to museums he realized he was more attracted to drawings than the paintings. He was intrigued with the lines and the flow the artists created. He immersed himself in art books and sketching in his free time, and soon his drawing and sketching were beginning to take form. They would become one of Douglas’ many talents.
“Here are the names of people and how I see they touched my life, my career.
- J. Holmes – who gave me chance
- Lloyd Davis – who planted a seed
- Don Butler – who watered that seed
- Rick Ricotti – who brought me to California
- Gaylerd Thissle – who gave me California
- Andy Stevens – who wouldn’t let me become irrelevant
- Conley Walker – who gives me critique and a running dialog
- Pedro Pedrini – who understands where I’m going and encourages its reality
- My muse – she pushes my boundaries and elevates my possibilities
In them, from them and because of them I found myself and my direction – it doesn’t get more blessed than that!”
In 1981, Douglas began a traditional four-year apprenticeship program with TJ Holmes in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Working for free during the day and for pay at night, left very little free time for this young, aspiring saddle maker. At the 3 ½ year mark of his apprenticeship program, Mr. Holmes died. Douglas ran the shop for the next 1 ½ years, then bought the business from Holmes’ widow. During those years, Don King would stop by and spend part of his time helping Doug. Doug stayed in Cheyenne until 1990.
Lloyd Davis was the person that first planted the seed of non-traditional carving. For over a decade Krause had been focused on the Sheridan carving style, but Lloyd broadened his interest by giving him a 17th century Victorian engraving book. Doug was captivated with the seamless flow of the intertwined lines. Absorbed in the technique, he began drawing those inspired lines, turning them into patterns that have become his signature style and that style adorns almost every saddle he makes.
As mentioned, Lloyd Davis planted the seed and Don Butler watered the seed. Don Butler (a legendary saddle maker) would question Doug’s thinking; he would reenergize him through thoughtful discussions and hours spent together developing Doug’s out-of-the-box style. Don and Douglas along with Steve M, Bob Park, Andy Stevens and Pedro Pedrini taught together at the Elko workshop for years. Masterminding techniques inspired not only the students, but each other through the workshop program.
Douglas was drawn to California to broaden his horizons, joining on with the Ricotti Saddle Company; Doug was expected to produce a distingue protocol style that Rick Ricotti had developed. Doug conformed to the style, but inside he was yearning to explore a new style–the style he knew was his own.
While in California he met Gaylerd Thissle, from whom he learned the Northern California style of carving, giving him a great appreciation of its regional style. These gentlemen were like fathers to Doug; he went to many of their shops, some of the shops were enormous, others were small and intimate. It was there he learned and grew to respect the California style of leather crafting.
Douglas has been on his own for his entire career, apart from the four or five years spent with Ricotti’s. It is rare for any artisan to be able to sustain an entire career without subsidizing their income, Doug has found a way and it is his way.
Learning the Ropes
Douglas was chosen to participate in the Master Apprentice program through the National Endowment of the Arts. Through the program Douglas was introduced to a married couple Larry and Toni — he made horsehair ropes and she hitched horsehair. He picked up the skill of hitching quickly, then a friend shared with him that Bob Mills, a horsehair rope maker, was going to sell his business. Having watched Larry build ropes, he had a good idea about the processes needed to complete a rope. He decided to buy the Bob Mills rope factory in 1995. Early on in his rope business he found a video about rope making. He would watch a section of the video and run out to his shop to complete the step, then he’d run back in to watch more video…returning again and again to complete yet another of the many steps required to hand-fabricate a horsehair rope.
Making ropes requires a 50-foot-long building; moving his shop several times required not only the labor involved in packing and moving all the heavy, cumbersome equipment, but also finding a building with a minimum length of 50 feet. Doug has built over 15,000 ropes; he has refined his system to be able to make his simple ropes in 3 hours, in contrast to the 300 hours it takes to make a saddle. (See Doug Krause’s Video: Horsehair Worker (Ranch Handcrafts) https://youtu.be/hgzlgMvg5gc )
Douglas Krause’s Career Timeline
-1981, began saddle making apprenticeship with T.J. Holmes, Cheyenne, Wyoming
-1985 purchased the Holmes Saddle Shop
-1990 moved to Colorado
-1995 purchased Blind Bob Mills mane hair mecate manufacturing business and machinery
– 2005 moved to California to study the West Coast saddle industry and its history
– 2018 presently in Texas learning new skills — he has yet to reveal the next door, but is always ready for a new adventure
During our visit, Douglas spoke so eloquently (another talent) and shared two favorite quotes. “There are many quotes that speak to me, but a couple that always strengthen me,” he remarked. “They both speak to me about being brave in your creativity.”
“We all die…the goal isn’t to live forever…the goal is to create something that will.” — Chuck Palahniuk
“Don’t let the tamed ones tell you how to live.” — Jonny Ox