The president of the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association previews one of the most significant Western art events, kicking off October 4 – 6, 2018 at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
The Cowboy Crossings show brings together the top tier of artists and craftsmen working in the Western arts for the premier annual show at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
Collectors and the public alike mark their calendars and wouldn’t miss the opportunity to see what the members of the Cowboy Artists of America and the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association have been working on all year for the big event. Selections of the work to be featured at the show are previewed in the slideshow below.
We caught up with TCAA president and bit and spur maker Wilson Capron to talk about the 20th anniversary of the TCAA, the work he’ll be showing at Cowboy Crossings, and what he’s looking forward to about the show.
Cowboys & Indians: What have you been working on for the Cowboy Crossings show? I imagine you’ve been busy. ...
Wilson Capron: I have a small anxiety problem that I won’t meet next year’s deadline of August 1. The first week of August is usually the deadline. I spend four to six months of the year doing work devoted to the TCAA show. A lot of time and thought go in to it. As soon as I’m done with the work for one show, I’m already thinking about how I’m going to do better the following year.
I like to say the TCAA has one small obligation: Bring the best three pieces you’ve ever made in your life each and every year. If you bring a show that represents your discipline and pushes your limits and the limits of the industry, we’re fulfilling the mission of the TCAA: to preserve and promote the skills of saddlemaking, bit and spur making, silversmithing, and rawhide braiding and the role of these traditional crafts in the cowboy culture of the North American West.
C&I: What role does the Cowboy Crossings show play in the overall mission of the TCAA?
Capron: Cowboy Crossings is the heartbeat of our organization. The show is extremely important. It’s our greatest medium and the greatest place for education. Not only do we get to push ourselves to our limits, but we get to expose the industry to the work being done at the highest level. It’s great to see everyone in one place surrounded by the art. As craftsmen and artists we generally spend 360 days of the year in solitary confinement and then get in community for five days. That exposure and professional camaraderie are so inspiring.
C&I: What has it meant to exhibit together with the Cowboy Arts of America since the TCAA and CAA came together in one Cowboy Crossings in 2011?
Capron: It’s been wonderful. What we in TCAA do is all about the culture of the West; what the CA does is all about the West. We are all telling the story of the West. And the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is making sure the story is told to everyone. To have the shows coincide and share in the greatest, most unique Western art show is indescribable.
Craft is a wonderful word to me. But it’s not always seen as equivalent in relation to the word art. When we started showing with the fine artists of the CA, it gave craft the proper elevation: We crossed the threshold into fine art. That’s only appropriate because “craft” at this level really is fine art. Having the Cowboy Artists there with us has helped expose a lot of people to what we do as art. It has helped people understand that art is not limited to paintbrush or clay.
In the TCAA, we have four disciplines: bit and spur making, saddlemaking, silversmithing, and rawhide braiding. There’s not one Cowboy Artist at that show who would say that we’re not artists. But because what we make was originally utilitarian, there’s always a certain amount of educating we need to do about the potential of our art.
Cowboy Crossings is fun — I love it. I love having the CAs there. And I love when cowboys come and see the “utilitarian” thing I made that was formerly seen as just a tool to them. Now they’ll cherish it because they understand how it fits into the story of the West. The show gives a real context to the art that we make. With the CA paintings and sculptures there, you see how these bits and spurs, etc., fit into the story of the West.
I not only tell the story of the West. I am the West. When the public sees my work and looks at a painting that shows how what I make fits in the story, there’s an “Oh, wow!” moment.
C&I: This is the 20th anniversary of the TCAA. What does that milestone mean to you and the guys?
Capron: It’s hard to describe. I’ve been part of the organization for 14 years now. [Saddlemaker] Cary Schwarz was one of the first guys who go back 20 years. The organization started with him and a couple others. I don’t think they ever — I certainly never — dreamed it would turn into what it has. I don’t mean how much money we make. I mean how much impact it has. It’s so much bigger than a couple of guys making saddles, bits and spurs, and braiding rawhide. It’s 365 days a year and requires lots of time. Twenty years is an inspiring landmark. It’s been a fun ride so far. Hallelujah! We take it a day at a time and one step at a time and try to learn from our mistakes. I’m glad we’ve arrived at where we are, and I’m looking forward to the next 20 years.
C&I: What are you looking forward to about this year’s show?
Capron: When I walk through the museum doors and am actually there with the pieces I’ve made alongside all the other amazing work, the feeling is indescribable. It’s always fun to see what everyone’s done. It’s a great feeling. It’s a one-of-a-kind feeling. It’s about the heart and soul and effort the guys put into the amazing things they create. The members of the TCAA are my heroes. When I get to be with them, the energies that come off of them are just so inspiring. These are folks who will not accept good enough. To see that passion put into those pieces — to see the artists, to know them — it’s awesome. I love it.
C&I: These are the traditional arts of the highest caliber. How do you learn a craft/art and what kind of hours are you talking about having to put in to become a master? What really distinguishes the work at this level?
Capron: I promise you everything’s been done before, but how I tell the story uniquely — each and every year, that is the challenge. But it’s also the reward. How the other guys tell their story is fun and exciting. It’s like a country song: There are probably 100 million songs talking about the same thing, but all the songs are different. That’s what it’s all about.
I think the 10,000-hour rule gets you started. There’s no way to get there without doing it day in and day out. You’ve got to put in the time.
I got accepted in TCAA at a very early age, when I was 30. I didn’t have two pennies to rub together, but I had a dad who’s an artist. And I had my mentor, [TCAA emeritus member bit and spur maker] Greg Darnall, who studied function and mechanics. Those things have helped me distinguish my own work.
The real opportunity came for me in the way my dad coached me. He would say, “That’s nice son, but ...” And then we’d get to talking, sometimes for hours, about how to make it better. That is priceless. To be given proper guidance and proper evaluation of your efforts is the only way it works.
There is a reason the vast majority of the TCAA guys are older: It’s taken years and years of working their butts off to accomplish what they’ve accomplished. It’s extremely difficult. That makes it sound like it’s only blood, sweat, and tears, but I love every minute of it.
I was a rodeo bum. I like to rope, still do, but I just don’t do much of it anymore. I don’t have time. I get up at 4 a.m. and work till 6 p.m.
I moved into a new shop over the weekend, and it looks like a bomb went off. Last June, my wife walked in and said, “Hey let’s go look at a place on the river.” In about 10 minutes of me walking around the property, I was ready to move. It’s been a great adventure and a real blessing. The house sits on a bluff overlooking the river. There are pecan and oak trees. It’s really cool. I got to build my own shop for the second time. The first time, I wasn’t old enough to understand what the devil I needed. Now it’s a different story.
C&I: You’re out in Christoval, Texas. Cowboy Crossings is held in Oklahoma City at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. What’s special about that museum for you and the experience of having the TCAA show there?
Capron: It’s the only place we could have our show that really would tell the story of the West. We’re just one element of the West. Having it there at a place that represents the whole story is invaluable. They are great partners. They listen to us and we really feel heard. It’s special that they invited us from the word go and have helped us grow. This will be my 15th year there. Every year I tour the museum and see something new. The museum is a wonderful thing. The staff, the people, really make it.
C&I: What’s on the horizon for TCAA to ensure the traditional cowboy arts continue on in the future?
Capron: Educating myself as much as I can and sharing that with whoever will listen long enough for me to tell them. The only way TCAA continues to grow is if other people are out there pushing their skill sets past their comfort zones. We continue to grow as artists and as an organization through our education programs and through continuing to educate ourselves. Giving a critique is one of the most difficult things I have to do. But in order for artists to keep improving, they have to want to get better and have to be critiqued. I want to inspire them to do better on the next piece. Moving forward, we have to inspire people to want to take on the mission of preserving whichever of the four disciplines they represent.
C&I: What do you like to do when you’re in Oklahoma City for Cowboy Crossings?
Capron: There are some great places to eat — Ranch Steakhouse has wonderful meals. But I’ll be completely honest: If all you do is go to that museum and walk around Cowboy Crossings for four days, you’re still going to miss some of it. I can’t stress how wonderful that museum is. I love all of it. I’m into metal, so I especially enjoy the gun room and the old bits and spurs. The history. The trail drives. Parts of old Hollywood — John Wayne. The grounds of the museum and the ginormous sculptures. Being a painter’s kid, of course the Charlie Russells and the Remingtons. There’s just nothing like it.
Opening weekend of Cowboy Crossings is October 4 – 6 at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. Galleries open to the public Saturday, October 6. For more information, visit nationalcowboymuseum.org, cowboyartistsofameria.com, tcowboyarts.org. Find more about Wilson Capron and his art at wilsoncapron.com.
Photography: (Header) Wilson Capron, Spurs with high-relief engraving and inlayed with 24K gold (detail), 2018 TCAA exhibition/Carla C. Cain, Wilson Capron/Courtesy Cowboy Crossings.