Returning to Charles Kuralt's America for November in Rio Grande Valley, New Mexico:
I had an encounter with one living artist of New Mexico, Slim Green. I had heard of him years ago. Practically everybody with a horse has heard of Slim Green, the old master saddle-maker of Tesuque. I don't have a horse, but I met a man in Wyoming one time who was in the habit of unsaddling after a day's ride and carrying his Slim Green saddle all the way from the barn back to the house, where he kept it dusted and oiled on a rack in the living room. When that saddle wasn't serving as a saddle, it served as an object of art.
That's the way people have always felt about their Slim Green saddles, including such famous people as Errol Flynn, Gene Autry, and Robert Redford. I had known Slim Green's legendary name for so long that I assumed he surely had passed on with the other Western legends to that great tack shop in the sky. But one day, I heard on the car radio in Santa Fe that Austin Green was going to show off some of his saddles the next morning at the Maxwell Museum in Albuquerque. That was the entire announcement, but I knew it had to be Slim. I woke up early and headed back to Albuquerque.
Slim was still alive all right, and still enthusiastic and talkative at seventy-nine, and still, by the way, slim. He was still making saddles, too, but only three or four a year now, which means that most of the dozens of people on his waiting list -- "I do it strictly first come, first served," he said -- are going to be disappointed. . . .
"I work maybe a hundred hours on a saddle," he said, "and these days I charge as much as seven thousand, five hundred dollars, even more it it's a real ornate saddle for a special occasion. So these days, well, figure it out, four saddles a year, that's enough to live on. I don't feel I'm cheating anybody. A saddle I sold in 1953 for three hundred dollars went for ten thousand last year. That one had my standard 'flowers,' oak leaves and acorns, so that anybody who knows saddles would know right off it's a Slim Green saddle, see. I've never stole another man's flowers, though I've had some of them try to steal mine.
"All my saddles are custom-made, meaning I take into account the height and weight of the horse and the rider, and the shape of the rider's behind. Then I start in. I carve the saddle tree out of lodgepole pine and go from there, building up the saddle with layers of shaved leather. My hides all come from the range, not the feedlot, and I take my time when I'm working. No shortcuts.
"A guy I used to know was always complaining my saddles cost too much. So he found somebody to make him one for less. Pretty soon, he came in with that saddle and asked me to repair it. He was rounding up cattle, riding hard, standing in his stirrups, when the right stirrup came right off! He almost fell and killed himself. See, inferior saddle-makers are partial to making the right stirrup out of inferior leather, since the left one is the one you always put your weight on to mount the horse. This guy had a right stirrup made from the belly, not the back. That ain't right. I've never done that in my life."
Tags: Charles Kuralt, America, New Mexico