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Morgan Buckert’s Art Spurred by the Cowboy Way
Wednesday, August 15, 2018


Morgan Buckert wears her art on her feet.

Handsome leather Western boots that have been lovingly stitched with big blazing B’s that hearken back to her days growing up on a large Texas ranch south of Austin.

Buckert is one of just 300 custom boot makers in the United States and one of just four in Idaho. She’s one of a dozen female boot makers nationwide.

“I love the combination of artistic expression and brute force,” said the Hailey woman. “I come from a family of hard workers and this makes me feel good.”

Buckert, who is the development director for The Nature Conservancy, took up boot making five years ago this month.

Independent Goods, a Ketchum store that features one-of-a-kind products made by craftsmen, began carrying her products earlier this year.

And on Saturday and Sunday Buckert will be among 50 artists who will open their studios for the public  as part of the Wood River Valley Studio Tour (see today’s story, “Wood River Studio Tour Includes Mosaic Project and Peace Tree.”)

Buckert grew up in Goliad, Texas, a seventh-generation Texas in a German-Czech family where custom made cowboy boots signaled a rite of passage—she got her first pair at graduation.

While pursuing a Master’s degree in history from the University of New Mexico-Albuquerque in 2005, she took a three-month summer internship with The Nature Conservancy at Silver Creek Preserve. Thirteen years later, she’s still here, enticed by the fly fishing and the opportunity to ride her bike to work.

She returned to her love of leather work five years ago this month for the challenge. She took classes at a school started during the Depression in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to teach women to craft.  Then she returned home to apprentice under Seth Teichert of Mackay.

She has received four grants from the Idaho Commission on the Arts.

Today she builds custom cowboy boots, shoes, sandals, purses and other leather goods in a workshop tucked in among former fishing cabins in the Little Indio neighborhood beneath Carbonate Ridge.

Those who venture into her studio find a feast for the eyes. Buckert has filled it with eye candy, including one of Dolan Geiman’s Day of the Dead-inspired cowgirl paintings she got at last weekend’s Sun Valley Center for the Arts & Crafts Fair, Texas Centennial and Wagon Days posters and a “Sun Valley Cyclone” movie poster featuring Red Ryder.

Buckert starts off each boot by measuring clients in eight places, including the ball of their foot, instep, heel, short heel and leg. Forty hours later she has a boot.

It can encompass anything from kangaroo leather to kid skin to water buffalo tanned in Italy.

“We have 75 pieces of leather in that boot from the pull tabs to the insoles,” she said pointing to a pair of boots she just finished.

Her handwork, endowed with custom patterns and the highest quality leather, is meant to last a lifetime whether a purse, wallet or key chain.

I’ve sewn since I was 4 and I’d rather sell someone a leather handbag that’s going to last than something I’ve made out of fabric,” she said.

She uses an array of hand tools specific for boot making which, she quipped, “means they’re expensive and old.”

She stitches using a 1915 treadle machine that has been converted to electricity.

“I love that 103 years later I’m still using that sewing machine,” she said.

She feeds herself a steady diet of county western tunes while she works.

“I play slow music like ‘El Paso’ when I’m working on the sole stitching machine. It’s the scariest machine I have because it’s so easy to mess up,” she said.

Buckert is currently building a pair of boots that will feature a design based on a tattoo of a cloud symbolizing the White Cloud Mountains.

Another features zig-zagging lightning. And still another features ski routes down the Lost River Range requested by her husband Paddy McIlvoy, who recently began partnering with Andy Munter on Backwoods Mountain Sports.

Stitching not only adds an artistic touch but it increases the stability of the boot, providing  reinforcement to keep it standing upright.

Buckert treasures the moment she hands boots over to their wearers.

“The first day my dad tried on his boots they ended up covered in cattle manure and mud,” she recounted. “But his feet didn’t hurt and that’s the greatest compliment you can give a boot maker—that the boots don’t hurt.”

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