Chester Hape - Sheridan Wyoming

Saddlemaker Chester Hape
Chester Hape, who is retired but still does leatherwork for pleasure, learned much from Don King. Hape carves the intricate flower pattern that is the hallmark of the Sheridan style, but his designs appear to be continuous, with every vine and leaf and flower connected. "I will break up a vine with another vine," he told us in his studio, "but only with a single vine, so the flow is never broken. I like to loop things through other things, so your eye never stops." Hape, who is known for the precision of his carving, explains that his attraction to leatherwork came as no surprise. "All my family on my mother's side were carpenters and artists. I liked to draw and make things from the time I was little. Growing up around horses and ranches and rodeo, it seemed natural to put that feeling into saddles."

Like Don King, Hape is always ready to remind admirers that his saddles are built to work. He bristles at the notion that saddlemaking is something people do as a hobby. "I call that the Tandy syndrome," he says, referring to the Tandy Leather & Crafts catalogues long popular among home hobbyists. "You have no idea how a saddlemaker has to work for years refining and developing his art. That is why there are so few good ones."

Most of the men who are now known for making Sheridan saddles, in fact, at one time worked with or for Don King. The trophy saddles King made in the 1950s and 1960s for world-champion rodeo cowboys set the standard for the highly refined floral style. Chester Hape explains that King's generosity as a teacher is part of what has made Sheridan such a productive leatherworkers' community. "Here you work on something and you think, 'All the other saddlemakers are going to see this. It better be good!' There is a lot of competition in this town, but it's friendly competition, the kind that makes you better."

Contributed by: Jane and Michael Stern - the authors of Way Out West (1993); Happy Trails: Our Life Story (1994), with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans; and Dog Eat Dog (1997).