G.K. Fraker - 2021 Al Stohlman Award Winner
Michiko Matsuda - 2021 Al Stohlman Award Winner
(The Leather Crafters & Saddler's Journal would like to thank G.K.'s daughters Merrita Marble, Amanda Fraker, and son-in-law Patrick Marble for this bio on G.K.)
G.K.Fraker, saddlemaker and leatherworker, is best known for his traditionally styled ranch saddles that reflect his heart for making the hours that the working cowboy of Wyoming spends on horseback as comfortable as possible. In 1957, at the age of five, Fraker remembers the first time that he was exposed to the smell of leather. It was in Sheridan, Wyoming, when his father, Martin Fraker, took a day off from his cowboy job to go to town and purchase a new pair of stirrups from Ernst Saddlery. In G.K's own words, ‘I have been addicted to the smell of leather since.’
Years later, in 1969, at the age of 17, Fraker needed a larger saddle. His father convinced him to strip the leather from an old one and recover it from the ground seat up. Not only did that experience give Fraker a chance at a new saddle but would lead to a career and a life that he loves. First as an apprentice, then full-time, Fraker worked at the Tack Shop under the critical eye of Jesse Smith for years. He also was able to learn from Lee Knoel's at Hamley & Co. of Pendleton, Oregon. Although he learned a lot of from both Smith and Knoel, he learned his work ethic from his father, Martin. It did not matter the task or what you had to do it with - you did the best you could.
In 1977. Fraker started Clear Creek Saddle Trees in Buffalo, Wyoming, where he put to use his gift to build something and analyze how it fit - whether on a horse or on a person. After 25 years of making saddle trees, Fraker was awarded the title of Master Craftsman in Western Saddle Tree Making by the Wyoming Arts Council and Master Custom Tree Maker by the Montana Arts Council.
In addition to his career as a saddle maker, Fraker has taught 4-H leathercraft for over three decades. He does not hesitate to pass his skill to the next generation of craftsmen, as was done for him. He is now actively involved in leathercraft groups on Facebook and through his website, mentoring young artists throughout the US, Australia, Germany, England, France, and more.
When Al Stohlman Award recipient, Jesse Smith, retired, he asked that Faker take his place teaching his students. Since then, students come to Fraker's saddle shop to learn. He has built a fully furnished ‘bunkhouse' for students to relax after a day's schooling, with all the privacy and comforts of home. This expands opportunities for students to come year-round, without the extra expense of renting a hotel room in Buffalo, ten miles away.
Fraker's career has afforded him many awards, but the true awards that he receives for his work are the emails and letters that he receives from clients with whom he has worked, thanking him for his product, and from the aspiring craftsmen who thank him for his time sharing his lifetime of talent and skill.
Fraker believes that the more traditional look of his saddles reflects the clientele that he strives to cater to. You never know who will be stopping by the shop to just visit, get their tack repaired, or who has a day off from working on the ranch, with their five-year old son in tow - to order a new pair of stirrups on a day when the smell of leather is especially fragrant.
Today, 60-plus years after he first became addicted to the smell of leather, and almost half a century after he first started to apprentice under Jesse W. Smith, Fraker is still pursuing his passion. Some would say that it is building saddles and working with leather, but I argue that his true passion is building a saddle that is used and loved by the men and women who still work cattle the same way that they have for over 200 years. In doing so, Fraker can connect today's cowhand with their western heritage and at the same time, he is keeping an art form and a heritage of craftsmen alive.
When making my first few leather projects in the fourth grade from Tandy kits and Al Stohlman patterns, I never dreamed that it would lead to the emotional event that took place on June 28, 2021. Under the guise of my eldest daughter buying a late birthday supper for Kate and I, we drove the 45 miles south to my hometown of Kaycee. Imagine my surprise and confusion when we pull into town and find all four of our daughters, Jesse and Sheri Smith, Jim Jackson, Barry King, and a whole lot of friends standing around with grins on their faces.
I was totally floored when they announced that I had been awarded the Al Stohlman Award. They had kept the whole thing secret from me for over a month while they had planned the
surprise ceremony. The whole family was in on it, including my wife. They contacted several clients and had them bring the saddles I had made them; one saddle arrived on a horse, was pulled off and displayed, then was put back on the horse, loaded up in the trailer, then went back to work trailing cows to summer pasture.
To even be considered for the Stohlman Award, and to be added to the list of awesome previous recipients, is an honor of magnanimous proportions, but to receive it is humbling and very emotional. And then to have that many clients take time from their busy schedules to bring their saddles and share the event with me is a great honor in itself. My thanks goes out to all the members of the Al and Ann Stohlman Award Foundation and to all the others who had a part in making it a memory that will last a lifetime! - G.K.