Rawhide Arts

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Dick Schorr
Master reata braider Dick Schorr

In the northwest corner of a busy Folk Arts Courtyard during 2014 Tucson Meet Yourself, master reata braider Dick Schorr patiently explained the bundles of rawhide covering his folk arts demonstration table to onlookers. Dick held up several strands of the rawhide, showing how to judge if the moisture in the rawhide was right, and how to knit the fine knots for crafting the cowboy’s essential tool, also called a lasso or lariat. It was obvious that Dick — who learned his craft from older cowboys on his family’s cattle ranch near Douglas and the Mexican border — was proud of this meticulous western work of traditional art.

Braiding is best done when humidity was high, so that the rawhide could be worked properly, he explained. Cowboys cut strings uniformly, then set the crossed strings tightly in detailed designs. Wearing his rawhide gloves and handmade chaps, Dick showed the TMY visitors how to work the braid — securing his strands and rhythmically beginning his practiced push-pull braiding technique. It was hard work but satisfying, he said.

Rawhide, Dick told the group, came to the southwest with the Mexican vaqueros, and is still used to mend or enhance many aspects of ranch life and gear. The vaqueros horsemen helped the cowboy craft of braiding ultimately become folk art, remaining utilitarian but signifying beauty as well as practicality.

Time-consuming reata braiding is certainly an endangered art and skill. The Southwest Folk Alliance and Tucson Meet Yourself salute master artisans like Dick Schorr (also a Tucson veterinarian) for continuing to practice this storied western traditional craft.

Resources:

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