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Spurred on to success

by Marty Metzger
for The Fence Post
Pictured is a pair of spurs #51 that Justin Erickson wears himself and are not for sale.
Photo courtesy Justin Erickson

Justin R. Erickson has made a lot of momentous decisions this year. One of the biggest was in July when he opted to transform a longtime part-time avocation into a full-time silversmithing business.

Creativity called and Erickson eagerly answered, knowing that meant forfeiting regular paychecks as a heavy equipment operator and working for northeast Colorado ranches.

Of course, he wasn’t jumping into that pool without knowing its depth. Erickson had been building spurs, buckles and more since 2014. His initial goal was to earn enough money selling the hand-crafted but basic pieces on Facebook to be able to afford high-end ones.

“Cowboys don’t have a lot of money so we build what we need,” he said.

And a cowboy he has been since frequent childhood visits to his grandpa Rick Erickson’s Nunn, Colo., ranch, home to Limousine and eventually Angus cattle. Since his grandfather’s death in 1993, the property (now owned by Erickson’s uncle) has remained in the family, thus qualifying it to soon become a Centennial farm.

But when young Justin and older sister Jennifer spent Christmas, summer and other school breaks at the ranch, it was simply a huge, wonderful outdoor classroom in which a child could learn life lessons as well as rural skills. Erickson retold one especially extraordinary memory.

“I got to see my first calf being born when I was just 6 or 7,” he recalled. “It was in January, cold and snowing. Grandpa and I were sitting in his old Ford pickup while checking cows. Then this particular one easily delivered hers right then as I watched and as grandpa patiently explained everything that was happening.”

Now all his own cowboy experiences and skill sets (including welding shop work when younger) combine as the Ault, Colo., silversmith plies his trade/art form. It is going well; very, very well… and prolifically. He’s currently working on spur pair #81.

One true sign of popularity among customers is repeat sales. Erickson has an avid Arizona buyer who’s purchased eight pairs of spurs and 15 sets of buckles since 2015. All are custom made, of course, but the man always gives Erickson free rein on patterns.

He’s currently working on multiple pairs of spurs for a family that he won’t name since some of the items will be Christmas presents. The family brand will appear on all the pieces.

In 2017, he built a pair of special spurs as a donation for the Miss Rodeo Colorado Auction. Profits from the sale enable her to travel as representative for the state.

Erickson’s Facebook page — j.ericksonspursandbuckles — draws devotees from all around the country. He’s sent his work to customers in Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, North and South Dakota, Montana, Texas, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, West Virginia, and elsewhere.

Besides online sales, Erickson sometimes hits the road to shows and other events. For example, he early on worked a 2015 show in Amarillo, Texas. More recently, he displayed sale pieces at Tom Horn Days, Aug. 17-19, 2020, in Bosler, Wyo.

THE PROCESS

The artist in Erickson precedes the crafter. Erickson noted that he never draws in advance of a new project but rather sees it in his mind’s eye when a customer submits a description of a desired pattern (i.e. a bucking horse or a cross).

“It plays in my mind first and then I draw it out on paper, so it will fit on the spur,” Erickson said

He hand-cuts all his shanks and rowels rather than using water jet, laser or plasma computerization to cut, as do some crafters.

Erickson’s glad that many customers value, and prefer, hand-cut pieces. Although the process is more labor and time intense, he believes it offers better quality in the long run. He cuts with a band saw and uses his keen eye rather than computer guidance to perfect each piece.

Intricate engraving can take many hours but Erickson likes the plainer wriggle pattern and wheat stalks that simulate 1970s era work.

SECOND DECISION

So Erickson joyfully leapt into full-time self-employment in July. But, having already been on Facebook for five years, back in February he’d noticed the page of Montana-based leatherworker Lacey Clark, who fashions chinks, chaps, belts and spur straps.

The two became fast Facebook friends, immediately discovering many shared interests. Online friendship soon transformed into real life dating. Erickson adamantly credits Clark’s encouragement of his upgraded vocational choices for helping him shift into creative high gear.

He proclaimed, “She stands with me in everything I’ve done to go full-time in my silversmithing.”

Now they are teaming up creatively. The pair just co-sponsored High School Rodeo rider Bailey Shumpert with a custom hand-crafted donation of Erickson’s spurs and Clark’s straps.

They’re planning a Facebook belt project incorporating his buckle and her belt. And then there’s at least one pair of Clark’s chinks displaying Erickson’s silver hardware.

But hey, it’s a 10-hour one-way drive from Ault to Montana. That’s quite a long distance romance indeed! But Clark moved closer, cutting the compute in half when she relocated to Wyoming. Still, five hours each way is still an arduous journey. Despite only seeing each other in-person once every two to three weeks, the couple makes it work.

“She’s the love of my life,” Erickson said.

THE YOUNG ‘UNS

One common delight that Erickson and Clark share is teaching the next generation. He has a 12-year-old son, Lane, and she is mom to daughter Kaycee. Both youngsters are talented and clever.

Young Lane loves his father’s art, having now made it his own by building two pairs of spurs and two sets of spur strap buckles.

Clark can’t say enough about little Kaycee’s interests and abilities. At the tender age of just 9, the industrious girl rides, has her own black cows and 4-H project chickens (sells the hen’s eggs), and intends to do a beef project with red cows when she age qualifies.

“She’s very independent,” Clark said.

And, again, creative. Kaycee designed her own pair of chinks (sporting Erickson’s buckles) and also an itty bitty pair for one of her chickens!

You can view/order Erickson’s spurs and buckles on Facebook at j.ericksonspursandbuckles. He can also be reached by phone at (970) 576-2189. ❖

— Metzger is a freelance writer from Fort Collins, Colo. She can be reached at ponytime47@gmail.com.


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