You say holster, I say art. And we are both right. It is the work of Chris Andre, the “Slickbald” of the Slickbald Custom Holsters. I recently attended one of his one-on-one classes to learn to make Western holsters, and I was amazed by the creations that appear as a regular day’s work for Slickbald.
As I entered the workshop, one rig heaped on the table was a double buscadero. Great swathes of the belt’s surface were died turquoise and embellished with skulls and gothic-themed crosses. It looked good. Good enough to be the star in a Hollywood movie. But on closer examination, there were obvious scrapes on the belt at the top of the holster’s mouth. This was a shooter’s competitive rig. Chris explained that it was in the shop for additional holsters in a different style. The owner had worn the rig out and wanted a new rig built along the same pattern. The wear? Only the scrapes previously described. I do not see very many holsters in Slickbald’s workshop. But, as Slickbald explained, everything in his shop is custom made to order, and after he photographs the rig for posterity, it is shipped out the door to the waiting customer. When I asked him about the beautiful rigs casually scattered around the shop, Chris replied, “They are mistakes.”
Lying carelessly in a heap was perhaps the most ornate and beautiful rig I have ever seen. Old Glory waved around the side of the belt, with its rich, majestic colors of red, white and blue. The holster’s body is a double-loop style with accent spots on the perimeter, and a carving of the eagle on the great seal filled the back landscape of the belt. This double buscadero looked to be made for a presentation of state or a display in the halls of government. Yet, it laid neglected. The fault? It did not fit the customer. Slickbald’s solution: Take it back and do it all over again.
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Steve Fowler, aka Bat Masterson, ordered a beautiful double buscadero carved with a rich floral pattern. It is a Hollywood or “B” Western-style rig. It fit the tall, stately Masterson, dressed in his Sunday meeting clothes, to a T. Yet the precise detail of the winding leaves and subtle colors made the rig appear almost simple. And it still completely matched the calm and collected demeanor of Masterson. In many instances, it takes careful, close examination to see the true depth of Slickbald’s detailed carving. A magnifying lens is also helpful.
At many places on the outline or the body of the belt and holster, Slickbald applied “spots,” or decorative metal studs that are used to further adorn the rig. Spots can come in many sizes and shapes and even colors. Squares, rectangle, circles, silver or brass. In fact, the earliest use of spots may be Native Americans, who applied brass tacks to their rifle stocks and used them as personal adornments. The rectangular pyramid spots hand-set on Bat’s rig are for maximum bling. This is the way a Hollywood holster should look.
Another “plain” rig I found in the Slickbald’s shop is also a double buscadero. It is uniform black, trimmed with silver spots and large white fleur-de-lis designs. But upon closer examination, the fleur-de-lis designs are in fact cutout windows. Inside the window is cowhide. The white-hair inlay is a perfect contrast to the black finish. The look is so simple and so authentic that it is elegant. Right out of a Hollywood “B” Western. Its fault? A measurement was taken incorrectly, then not discovered until…Now you begin to understand Slickbald.
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Slickbald’s shop is a one-man operation, and although it’s not cramped, it is well filled. A table is devoted to cutting and assembling. A sturdy office desk features a large granite slab and several light fixtures, the drawers filled with stamping and carving tools. There is a booth to apply dyes. There are not your typical blacks and shades of brown, but nearly 60 different colors and hues of dyes. In one corner is a tall rack of cardboard holster patterns, alongside of which are steel straps and a hydraulic press that can quickly punch out familiar blanks. Another workbench is solely for finishing the burnishing, waxing, buckles, snaps and spots—all of the fine touches and glitter. Transitioning from station to station, Slickbald moves effortlessly and yet with purpose as each steps build upon the other.
It is obvious that the double buscadero is the most favored rig that Slickbald creates. It is the largest “canvas” available in a holster rig. Although Chris does not admit it, he appears to have a penchant for red roses. What I think are some of Slickbald’s most beautiful and true-to-life carvings are of red roses. One particular holster I saw had large, full-bloom roses, and the belt was adorned with intertwining green stems, leaves and flowers in various states of blossoming.
Silkbald can teach you the skills required to build any of the multitude of holsters and belts he makes. He does this in one-on-one classes and as part of the education programs at leather shows. His training is clear, precise and well laid out for the student to both experience and succeed at Western holster making.
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Slickbald is in a league of his own. He carefully designs, carves and finishes the designs that distinguish his customers. He is happiest when a customer gives him free reign to create. And his results do not disappoint. Slickbald’s creations should be hung on a wall to admire, yet are commonly seen on the firing line.
For more, visit http://www.slickbald.com or call 303-641-0861.
This article was originally published in the 2016 GUN ANNUAL™ buyer’s guide. Print Subscriptions are available here.
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