Don King - 1998 Al Stohlman Award Winner

1998 Al Stohlman Award to Don King, Sheridan WY

Although Don was not able to be present at the announcement during the banquet at the '98 IFoLG show in Michigan City, Indiana, Dottie and I included Sheridan on our business trip to the West in October. A wonderful breakfast was arranged by Carole Perkins of the Sheridan Chamber of Commerce, and we were joined by many of Don's family and friends.

Each year for fourteen years an individual is selected from a group of nominees who have submitted a portfolio of their life with leather. In Don's case, there were five letters of nomination and a portfolio was prepared by Jim Jackson who also has carved the cover design for this issue. All this was done without Don's knowledge. All of the portfolios were sent together to each of the five judges. These people are experienced, full-time leatherworkers, and most have known AI Stohlman and understand his aims and purpose for the award. The judges then base their ratings in five categories; honest dedication to the craft, skill level, shares and gives freely of knowledge, experiments with new ideas and applications of leather and previous awards, published works and groups organized.

Don's life with leather has been well documented in books on saddlery and a current volume about his life. He has received the Chester A. Reynolds Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, the National Heritage Fellowship for the National Endowment for the Arts, the Governors Quality Business Award, and the Governors Excellence in the Arts Award of Wyoming. And now, a richly deserved addition, The Al Stohlman Award for Achievement in Leathercraft for 1998.

The history of Don began in Douglas, WY. His father was a cowboy, a rough string rider, bronc rider and horse breaker. Don went with his dad from job to job. First in Arizona, where he went to 6 or 7 different schools, and living in line camps. By the time he was 15, he had split up with his father and worked ranches, wrangling dudes and shoeing and working horses. Also, at 15 years he worked for a riding stable in Phoenix, and on days off would hang out at Porters Saddle Co. He kept telling the old-time saddlermakers that he wanted to do that someday. Most of them wouldn't show or tell him or even encourage him. But there was a young fellow working at Porters, whose name was Cliff Ketchum. Cliff liked Don and gave him some scrap leather and some nails and told Don to file them out and start stamping. Don started that night. It became his hobby, stamping and making belts and bill folds, anything that was small and could sell.

Don worked for 4 or 5 shops just stamping belts. Before WWII, he worked for Park Saddle Co. in Glacier Park, MT, stamping belts in the afternoon after wrangling since 3:30 a.m.

Then came the war and the Coast Guard, also, marriage to a girl who he met at one of the dude ranches. After the service, the newlyweds went to Wyoming and Don worked for Rudy Mudra, where he learned to make saddles. His family expanded and Don started building saddles at home, milking cows, breaking and shoeing horses. He did piece work, stamping and building for Rudy and made 3 saddles a week, did all the cutting, stamping, even stamped belts, billfolds and notebooks until past mid night, 7 days a week.

In the late 50's his style and tooling became well known. Don has taught scores of people how to stamp and make saddles and other items. Billy Gardner came to work for Don, and Bob Douglas, Chester Hape, Don Butler, Clint Fay, and Jim Jackson. These men and many others have learned the style of carving known in the Northwest as the "Sheridan Style", utilizing smaller flowers, most often wild roses arranged in a complex pattern of interlocking circles.

For over sixty years, Don has continued daily to improve and promote the leather industry through personal excellence, encouraging through teaching others who for the most part have continued their leatherwork to this day. A leader in innovation and design of hundreds of utilitarian leathercraft items to some of the most outstanding examples of saddlery known. Don is a person of great vision and character.

Jim Jackson, noted artist and leatherworker, once remarked, "few people in history have by their life's example, changed the course of an Industry; Don King is one of them".

Bill Reis. "1998 Al Stohlman Award to Don King, Sheridan WY”. The Leather Crafters & Saddlers Journal.  Jan/Feb 1999: p 5. Print.