Shop Talk

The TCAA: A Counterculture Movement

Recently I sat down with some of the officers, and long time members, of the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association. We discussed the state of the high-end, high-quality western industry, and some of the problems that many of us face. I think you’ll be interested in what they had to say about how they can help you. Pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee and I’ll introduce you. Their stories may sound familiar.


Current secretary-treasurer, and founding member of the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association, Cary Schwarz grew up drawing. He loved to make signs and draw cartoons. He became known as the class artist, and the positive feedback he received from his peers encouraged him further. When he was 19, he became interested in horses and by 21 he was using horses to hunt in the back country of Idaho.

In 1979, Cary Schwarz started working leather professionally at a holster shop in Twin Falls, Idaho. At the time he didn’t realize that this would become his profession. He became interested in saddlemaking, and in 1982 Cary attended a saddlemaking school in Spokane, Washington, taught by Jesse Smith. The pieces began to come together.

 “Once I was introduced to the artistic aspects of decorating saddles, I was hooked,” says Cary. “I took to that like a duck to water.”

In 1984, Cary purchased a western store and saddle shop in Salmon, Idaho. He set out making basic cowboy gear, but with an eye towards emulating the workmanship of older makers like Dale Harwood.

 “We’re trying to use the collective power of the group to speak for the little guys out there that are trying to carve out a living.”
— Cary Schwarz

 In 1987, Cary’s work was accepted in the Trappings of the American West show in Flagstaff, Arizona. His work was on display alongside makers like Don King and Chuck Stormes.

In 1988, Cary moved his business off of Main Street Salmon in order to focus more on custom saddle work.

Today, he works out of

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