Randy Severe - Severe Brothers
The Severes Tall in the Saddle.
Saddle makers carve works of art.
The saddle was an elaborate piece
of work, carved with California
copper roses, wild roses, sunflowers
and three different types of leaves. A
red leather dyed border trimmed a dyed
brown background. Braided rawhide
accentuated the comers, the horn and
cinch. Behind it and other examples of
their work, Randy Severe and his uncle,
Duff Severe, felt right at home surrounded
by their tools at a work bench
that exactly duplicated the one in their
own saddle shop - down to the dimensions
of the stamping rock. About the
only thing missing was their huge
sewing machine. They were at the Festival
of American Folklife to
demonstrate the art of making saddles
and braiding rawhide.
The mall in front of the National
Museum of American History at the
Smithsonian was the gallery for about 10
Masters of Traditional Arts in July 1994.
For 10 humid Washington D.C. summer
days, these artists demonstrated
their skills and showed hoards of
tourists why they, above all their peers,
had been selected to represent their particular
craft - and how they are passing
the tradition on to new generations.
Duff and Randy Severe, Western saddle
makers and rawhide braiders supreme,
joined masters of weaving, potting, lei
making, wood carving and lace making
to show their skill at saddle making
and leather braiding.
In 1982, Duff Severe was one of 15
original Master Craftsmen named
National Heritage Fellows by the
National Endowment for the Arts. He
was selected after the Smithsonian
judges found him most mentioned by
his peers when asked who was the best
leather worker in the country. The
National Heritage Fellows program is
designed to preserve and promote the
traditions in which the various artists are
trained. Severe has exhibited his skills
at the Smithsonian six times as part of
this program. This year, the Institute
invited both Duff and Randy to participate
at the Festival of American Folklife.
Marjorie Hunt, the folklife program's
curator, says, "Without a doubt, they
are the greatest Western saddle makers
in the country."
It started with a sheepherding father
in Idaho, who taught his sons, Bill and
Duff Severe, the art of braiding rawhide
and turning it into beautiful pieces of
gear. After apprenticing for 10 years in
the famous saddle shop, Hamley's, in
Pendleton, Ore., the brothers went out
on their own. Since 1955, Severe Brothers
has grown in reputation by
word-of-mouth. They've never spent a
nickel on advertising, they say. Demand
for the saddles is such that they have a
policy of accepting orders only during
the month of January each year.
The tradition is carried out by Bill's
sons, Randy and Robin who run the
shop while Duff, still an advisor but
retired now, works on his hobby of producing
miniature saddles. Made to
scale, these miniatures are attracting the
attention of collectors all over the country.
The one-quarter regular size saddles
on exhibit were complete in every detail.
One particularly popular model had
hand-tooled wild roses and scrolling,
pieces of silver and rawhide braiding for
decorative accent, an exact proportioned
30-30 carbine rifle fit snuggly into a
scabbard, and tapaderas covering the
Duff estimates that over the years he
has produced about 10,000 regular saddles.
He concentrates on turning out
Duff Severe in front of display of his miniature saddles.
miniatures now. To date he's made and
sold about 65 of the miniatures, 30 of
which adorn a limited edition bronze
sculpture of Duff done by Sedona, Arizona
artist Clyde Ross Morgan.
Duff won't accept custom orders for
the saddles. He says he just dreams
them up and creates a new design with
each one. He doesn't make them specifically
to sell, mainly for enjoyment. If
they sell, that's okay too! The fit of a custom
saddle is just as important to the
Severes as the cut of a custom designed
suit is to the Saville Row tailor. It must
work on the horse and under the rider.
Robin hand carves the tree, which is the
skeleton of the saddle. Randy puts the
'flesh', or leather on and, depending on
whether it's a working saddle or a trophy
saddle, determines how much
design and pattern will go into the finished
Randy works without a pattern, creating
every saddle from scratch. None
are alike and none can be duplicated.
The design is drawn freehand with a
dental instrument on wet leather, then
tooled. Using various utensils, the
leather is lifted, pushed or beveled. Variations
in color are made by tooling. The
pattern can be anything, but one of the
favorites over the decades has been the
oak leaf and acorn. Flowers are often
used - wild roses, sunflowers, and a
flower found only in the Northwest and
bearing that name is also popular. Duff
free handed a design known simply as
"Duff's Flower," which resembles a
poppy and is often used because it looks
so good on leather.
Like cars, the styles of saddles have
changed over the years. They're more
streamlined and comfortable now as the
demand for pleasure riding equipment
grows. In the early 1900s- when horses
were ridden all day - the saddle was
designed with the comfort of the horse
in mind. Now riding time is shorter
and the prime concern is for the comfort
of the rider. The Severes design saddles
that meet both demands. Not only
are they a work of art, the saddles are
guaranteed to last a lifetime and be
strong enough to rope and hold anything
a saddle horse will hold - the
biggest steer or bull.
The Smithsonian's Hunt quotes a
rodeo cowboy as saying, "The Severes
are the Mercedes Benz of the business."
To Randy, the challenge to keep the family
reputation up always exists'. "I want
to make the best and most beautiful saddle
you can find," he says, "and then
make the next one more beautiful than
The National Magazine of Equine Art,