Saddle Maker of the Year
Keith Seidel, standing next to his Saddle Maker of the Year award at Seidel Saddlery, talks about making custom saddles and working with leather, which he’s been doing for more than 30 years.
Seidel Wins Prestigious Saddle Award~ written by: Heidi HansenAfter 10 Academy of Western Artists' "Saddle Maker of the Year" peer nominations in a row failed to secure him the prestigious title, Keith Seidel said he had quit trying to win.
"A few years back I realized I didn't have anything left to prove for myself," Seidel adds. "I just thought I was never going to get it and that was OK."
But this February, Seidel and wife Lisa took a week off to travel to Fort Worth, Texas, for the annual Academy of Western Artists Will Rogers Cowboy Awards where he was honored as Saddle Maker of the Year. He is the 12th person to receive the award.
"This isn't a competition you can buy into or enter," he said. "It's like the Academy Awards for Western artists. You are nominated by your peers.
"This award represents a lifetime of accomplishments," he added. "It's an honor to be recognized by my peers for my life's work."
Seidel got his start in the saddle-making industry as a young teenager, working at Wayne's Boot Shop, making chaps and then in Powell as a saddle-making apprentice.
"It was better than washing dishing, and cowboy jobs were getting scarce," Seidel said. "This was still in the Western industry and I had a knack for it. So (saddle making) felt like a no-brainer. I went after it and always wanted to get better."
As a young adult, Seidel hit the road, traveling the entire U.S. to work for six months or a year with various well-known saddle makers – making mistakes, picking up tricks and ultimately honing his craft to reach the top of the field.
In 1994, Seidel returned to Cody with wife Lisa and two young daughters. They set up shop on a side street under the name "Seidel's Saddlery."
Six years later, when they relocated to the northeast corner of 12th and Sheridan across from the Irma Hotel, Seidel said "business doubled over night."
From the corner shop, Seidel continued to improve on his reputation for quality craftsmanship, targeting a clientèle willing to wait up to four years for a custom saddle.
"Very few people buy their first saddle from me," he said. "My customers know what they want. It makes my job easier."
Last fall, Seidel closed his store to focus more time on the custom saddle-making end of his business. He hopes to use his experience to train others in a trade that is diminishing so the craft is not forgotten.
But it may also free up time to pursue more creative ideas, like the one Seidel thinks likely pushed him over the edge to finally win Saddle Maker of the Year.
About two years ago, he was thinking about a piece for the Cody High Style Show and decided to finally take on a challenge a customer had made years earlier.
He set out to make a saddle – swell, skirts and rigging – with one piece of leather. After Cody High Style, Seidel took the saddle to a number of saddle shows, ultimately selling the piece for $35,000.
"After 200 years of saddle making you'd think there was nothing new to do," he said. "But this was new. It really stirred up the industry. It's probably what pushed me over the edge for the award."