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Wyoming-based cowboy artist Ernie Marsh teaches his craft

One of Ernie Marsh's California-style Buckaroo Spurs.
Ernie Marsh
One of Ernie Marsh's California-style Buckaroo Spurs.

Wyoming-based cowboy artist Ernie Marsh was awarded a Folk Art Mentoring grant through the Wyoming Arts Council to pass on his knowledge to an apprentice. Olivia Weitz visited his shop outside of Lovell, Wyoming to see how a handmade set of spurs gets made.

"It's pretty old-timey stuff. They've been doing this kind of work for a lot of centuries," Bit and spur maker and silversmith Ernie Marsh said. "And it just takes a lot of time."

Marsh is showing apprentice Amy Erickson how to inlay silver on a pair of spurs: the spurs will eventually go onto her cowboy boots. To teach her how he's making a set of spurs along with her.

"I make something real similar. I try to stay a couple of steps ahead of her along the way and so that she can watch me do it before she has to do it, and then I can help her with each step in the process," Marsh said.

They took inspiration from some spurs Marsh had previously made. Once Erickson decided on the design, they cut out the template of the spurs from a Wyoming license plate.

"Well we started out with a design we wanted; we knew our measurements already ahead of time, sketched them out on paper, and then we transferred that over to a license plate to where we can now have a template for those spurs any time we want to make them," Erickson said.

Marsh has been a full-time maker for almost 30 years. During that time, he's shared his trade with more than a dozen students. He says often students struggle to come up with a design to etch on the cowboy gear. But, that's not something Erickson has struggled with.

"Well, she has a background in ranching and horses and cowboy gear that goes back to when she was a kid, just like I do. And it really helps if you kind of know what something should look like before you go to building it," Marsh said.

A Folk Art Mentoring grantoffered through the Wyoming Arts Council paid for the silver and steel materials and Marsh's time to teach Erickson. The goal of their time together is to build a set of spurs in 10 days. This isn't the first time they've worked together. Erickson started learning engraving techniques from Marsh 9 years ago. This time around, she says, the artist has been just as welcoming.

"You see somebody's work like that and you're wondering, oh, you know, maybe this guy is not too willing to teach. He's not willing to share. He wants to keep all this stuff a secret. And Ernie just really wasn't. It was really refreshing to go learn from somebody, you know, that's had so many years of experience and is willing to share," Erickson said.

Spending time at Marsh's shop, Erickson has improved her silversmith skills. They pulled multiple 12 hour days. Erickson says the time outside the shop has been just as valuable: sharing meals and conversation with Marsh and his wife, Teresa, who jointly run a bit and spur and silversmith business.

"I think Ernie sets a great example. You know, he's very humble, but he works very, very hard, long hours. I get to hear how he treats his customers on the phone. You know, I get to see how he interacts with them. So honestly, as far as an artist and how to go about that, I think Ernie's kind of done it more by example than telling," Erickson said.

At the end of their time together, Erickson has a fully shaped set of spurs, but she's not quite done engraving them yet. She plans to finish them from her home in Evanston, Wyoming. Marsh says he looks forward to watching Erickson's career progress and hopes that at the end of the day she continues to have fun with it.

"Be happy with what you're making and shape your own reputation by the items that you make. Don't allow yourself to be distracted in trying to make everything under the sun. Just pick a few pieces that you really enjoy," Marsh said.

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