In 2012, the Alliance of California Traditional Arts (ACTA) curated an evening of traditional arts performance and exhibition at the California Plaza in Los Angeles, part of the Grand Performance series, to celebrate the grand opening of ACTA’s Southern California office. The performances were mesmerizing, the food was delicious, and the material art demonstrations were highly engaging. All the traditional artists left an impression on all those who attended, however, this was my first encounter with the master saddle maker Garry McClintock of Descanso, California, whose grounded way of being led me to a new appreciation of leather work, saddle making, and California history.
ACTA would like to remember Garry McClintock, who passed at his home on August 14th, 2015. This sad occurrence has had a ripple effect on the community of ranchers and vaqueros, saddle makers, leather workers, and the field of traditional arts on both sides of the border that McClintock would often cross. Our experience with McClintock was always one of sharing, which always came off as a kind way of explaining process of his work and of telling stories.
In 2010, Garry McClintock participated in ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program, sharing his knowledge of saddle making and ultimately of the vaquero life with his apprentice Ronald Titus. The mentorship mostly occurred at McClintock’s shop, McClintock Saddle Works, which was a spot that many people would visit to learn about the history and life of California’s cowboys and vaqueros.
McClintock was born in Santa Monica, California, and arrived to the San Diego area in the late 1960s to attend college at San Diego State, upon which he immediately moved to East County where he ultimately settled. He began working in leather, first making belts, and was then encouraged by a friend to think about building and designing saddles. So in 1973 McClintock started working on his own saddles after attending the Dewitt and Hendrickson School of Saddlery in Eugene, Oregon. His education did not end there, because of where he was geographically located, and influenced by his friend Elihu Granville “Granny” Martin, McClintock spent much time working with ranchers in both Southern California and Baja California. This education led him to a deep appreciation of the cultural landscape of the ranching, vaqueros, riding, leatherwork, and of course saddle making. In talking about the vaquero and this cultural practice, he was sure to share that this expression and practice emerged from Mexico and developed in the Southwest when it was still Mexico. McClintock felt this story was important to tell and together with his son, Cody McClintock, they contributed to the production of the documentary film Corazon Vaqueros: the Heart of the Cowboy.
When McClintock was asked about this lifestyle of the vaquero, he often and interestingly responded about what and how “they” do things, positioning himself as a visitor in this scene and lifestyle. Nevertheless, it was obvious that McClintock played a central role in keeping the vaquero culture vibrant through all his activities. He was the founder of the cultural gathering, Vaquero Days, in Descanso, California. McClintock was cited by staff writer Elizabeth White for the San Diego Union Tribune, stating, “It’s a historical educational event,” in which cowboys and vaqueros came together to demonstrate their skills such as roping, along with other cultural workers, artisans, cowboy poets, and musicians. He organized the event so people can see what and how people lived in another time and how some continue to live and work in this manner. (See White’s article http://www.utsandiego.com/uniontrib/20041017/news_78931.html.)
ACTA extends our condolences to his family and friends and collectively mourns the loss of Garry McClintock, the master artist, the gentleman, and elder that he was.
To learn more about Garry McClintock, please visit: