At a time when dozens of items are mass-produced far outside the United States, Drew Clark’s work is held in high esteem.
Clark, 54, is a custom saddler based in Colcord, Oklahoma, and handcrafts each creation in his own shop.
A fourth-generation cowboy and saddler, he owns Drew Clark Saddles at Veach Saddlery. His great-grandfather was the famous saddler Monroe Veach, while his grandfather Charley Beals was also a well-known saddler, Clark told Fox News Digital in a phone interview.
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Monroe Veach began selling saddles in Trenton, Missouri, in 1919, Clark said. After Veach’s daughter married Charley Beals, the two opened a western store in Oklahoma.
In the shop, the Beals could sell the products they had made using their individual talents. “He made saddles and my grandmother made dresses,” Clark said. “And they sold clothes in the shop there.”
When the Beals retired in 1985, they sold the store and moved to a ranch in Colcord, a small town in northeast Oklahoma, Clark said.
In the late 1980s, Clark and his parents built what is now the Saddle Shop at Colcord Ranch.
“We have my mother and father – they have a ranch here. They keep cattle and horses,” he said. Clark and his wife Darbi have been married for 29 years.
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It was important to Clark to highlight his legacy in his new venture.
Competence across generations
“Veach Saddlery, as the original company was called, is now called ‘Drew Clark Saddles at Veach Saddlery,'” he said. “We wanted to keep the name in business,” he said.
More than 100 years old, Clark said his family’s business is “one of the longest-running family-owned upholstery shops still in operation in the United States.”
Clark first worked in construction as a young adult, he said, but it wasn’t long before he was lured into the family’s line of work.
“It’s just hard not to do it,” he said. “They have everything there, and all the tools and machines. And I think it took me until my mid-20s to figure out what I had to do.”
“I learned a lot from my grandfather as a kid, just going in and out, running around my store.”
Clark said he more or less learned the craft from his grandfather and father because he had been involved with saddles his entire life.
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“I learned a lot from my grandfather as a kid, just walking in and out, walking around my shop. And my dad helped me a lot when I started,” he said.
“My grandfather died in 1994,” Clark said. “When my dad and mom got married he worked for them in the western shop there and helped grandpa make saddles, which he also knew a lot about.”
He added, “So if I have a question, he’s the guy I can go to.”
All custom-made products
The process of making saddles is different for each customer because each order is unique, Clark said.
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“The first thing I do is call and order a tree to start making a saddle from. It’s wood covered in rawhide,” Clark said, adding that he uses a “place in Utah” that makes them.
The “tree” has to suit both the rider and the horse, Clark said. He will measure the horse specifically and determine how the saddle should fit.
“And when I order trees, I get these dimensions and specifications. That’s a good thing about habits,” he added. “They fit you and the horse.”
Each saddle has a unique “metalwork like” carving specific to the buyer’s desires.
This process takes about two to three months, he said — but once the tree arrives, the custom leatherwork begins.
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“It’s hard to explain the exact process. There’s a lot to do, but yeah, you just keep putting leather where you want it,” said Clark, laughing.
Each saddle has a unique carving, “like metalwork,” specific to the buyer’s desires, Clark said.
Typically he carves “flowers and stems and leaves all intertwined”.
“Everything has a flow, you know — the leaves and everything in the same direction,” he said.
“You can do it in so many ways and [create] various designs with it, but it’s usually the basics like leaves and vines and flowers.”
As for the next generation of saddlers, Clark said he has two sons.
His eldest, Tyler, is a football coach, while his youngest, Drake, may be the one to take over the reins of the family. Drake “helps me quite a bit,” he said.
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Aside from customizing his products, Clark believes the leather he uses is superior to that of “assembly line” saddles from Mexico and South America, which can be bought for less than his custom work.
“They’re all exactly the same,” he said.
“Mine, everyone is different. Of course, if you do it by hand, you’ll never have exactly the same thing every time.”
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Clark said he couldn’t imagine any other life than the one he leads on his ranch.
“I can’t imagine living in a city where there are people around me all the time,” he said.
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“You can be alone out here if you want. I enjoy the work. And yes, I like being with the cattle and horses all day.”