Pop Wagner, cinch Maker and folksinger
Pop Wagner of St. Paul, Minn., brought his talents of teaching mohair cinch making and singing old cowboy songs during a week-long stay in Hot Springs, S.D. Terry Slagel, owner of Fall River Fibers, which is located adjacent to the Chautauqua Artisans Market, found his information from an internet search for cinch classes.
Since 1970, Wagner has made his living as a folksinger. When he participated in a Cowboy Songs and Range Ballads symposium in Cody, Wyo., Darin Alexander offered a three-hour clinic in cinch making. “I was fascinated,” Wagner said. “And I began to learn the craft.”
“I first used a horizontal device,” Wagner said. “When I first started building cinches my chiropractor wife told me I would end up hurting myself, so I created this loom. After trying other ideas, I noticed a sawhorse sitting on its end and realized that end would make a perfect foundation. In the class instruction booklet, there is a sheet that shows how to build a loom and I also sell them, ready to use. They are adjustable height wise so you don’t have to reach up or bend down. You can sit or stand as you wish.”
Six is the minimum number of students for his three-day class. In Hot Springs for the first time in his teaching career he ended up with two back to back classes with a total of 20 students. They came from Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Sharon Leieht arrived from Wisconsin for her third class with Wagner. She and her husband made a combined trip to tour the Black Hills around the class schedule. Leieht was working on a roper cinch which is two tied layers with a woven bar. She has just ventured into making items for sale.
Included in the class fee is everything needed to create one basic 17 strand cinch. Wagner supplies additional materials that can be purchased. His class features multiple projects, including a breast collar. “After a few days of classes and the repetition, muscle memory kicks in and the process becomes easier,” he said. Wagner knows of many who sell their work commercially. As each person works, they develop additional techniques for finishing off or tying and Wagner has learned from them.
“The loom for tied cinches doesn’t need to be really sturdy as you are just tying knots,” he said. “I watched videos to learn additional techniques. Much has been done the same, maybe for centuries. But when it comes to the actual design, with finger weaving, the possibilities are almost endless, once individuals learn the nuts and bolts,” Wagner said. “I have a grid, a graph paper with rectangles instead of squares, and use it to plan out my pattern. That’s a lot easier than having to pull out and reweave. Mohair can be wrecked if you tear it out too many times.”
Wagner also makes guitar straps and hat bands. He said, “I get the natural mohair in 25-pound reels from Weaver Leather. I order most of the dyed stuff from Hitching Post Supply, U Braid It, Steve Bork or Caravan Fiber; the latter does her own dyeing and has literally hundreds of colors, she does a really good job of rinsing so it’s pretty colorfast which is important when you put it on a horse.”
He worked with the North Dakota Council for the Arts, for which he trained five apprentices who were new to the art of cinch making. In March of 2018 he went to central Asia with the U.S. State Department to demonstrate cinch making. One of the stops was at Ankara, Turkey. Ankara translates to Angora which is what mohair is. He met with a group of women weavers for a short demonstration. “I did a little weaving and one of the women came up and started doing the same thing. Every technique I did, they already use when they make rugs,” Wagner said.
Wagner also did a concert during the week. “My music is largely influenced by Glenn Orhlin, an old-time cowboy singer.” Wagner calls his music folksongs yet with song titles like, “Jake and Roanie,” “Good Bye Old Paint,” and “Redwing,” most of his tunes are old cowboy songs or as he calls them, cowboy anthems. He writes a few of his own as well. He has traveled in 44 states and 15 countries doing his folk music and performed on Prairie Home Companion in its early days. In the Hot Springs concert Wagner played guitar, two different fiddles, did rope tricks and a bit of cowboy poetry, along with his deadpan humor stories. He also played a “shingo” which is the only one in existence. He knows because a friend made it for him out of cedar shingles and a broken chair from a bar altercation.
Check out his website, http://www.popwagner.com to see his upcoming schedule under the heading “more.” Be sure to click on the arrow for “more events” to see them all. An event of particular interest for this area is a mohair saddle cinch making class Oct. 4-6, at the Kearney Community Center near Story, Wyo. ❖