Keeper of the old ways

Wayne Wymore's passion for lost homestead skills keeps him busy

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About seven miles and a few county roads outside Craig, a modest gray sign that reads "Wayne's Shop" points to a worn metal shed behind a log house.

Once inside, saddles stacked five or six high and scattered tools are the first to meet the eye, and among them lurk familiar patterns that can't be pinpointed at first glance.

But once the first braided rawhide rope is spotted, the rest of them seem to jump out from everywhere.

Looking closer, much more than just rawhide and ropes fills the room. Kangaroo leather bull whips, braided canteens and twisted horsehair ropes are among the vast collection of handmade ranching tools in Wayne Wymore's craftsman's paradise.

"It's just a fascination," said the 73-year-old, who first learned to braid from a fellow sheep herder when he was 9.

Wymore has lived and worked at his Craig ranch all his life, and also had a saddle-repair shop in town.

It wasn't until he retired from saddle repair in the early 1990s that he could finally engage in the art that fascinated him all his life.

With a few other men in town who shared the same talent, Wymore formed the first old-time braiding group, which involves braiding and twisting natural materials in the same fashion the original homesteaders of this area did.

Wymore considers this craft "endangered," and the group continues to practice the lost art with hopes to keep it alive.

"I braid the way it was done 100 years ago," Wymore said. "That's important to me, but not to many others."

The best part of the monthly meetings, Wymore said, is that everyone in the group has a different talent they can share with everyone. Wymore's expertise is rawhide braiding, but he has learned everything from horsehair twisting to how to build a rope-making machine from his fellow artists.

"We will go to Brown's Park and spend the day with Chilean ranch hands and learn from them," Wymore said.

"Caskets are a poor place to share knowledge," he explained.

Though old-time braiding is dying, one lady with the Colorado Council for the Arts recognized Wymore's talents, and against his resistance, proved to him that people are interested in his art.

Wymore recalled her contacting him and insisting that their Folklore Award would "fit him like a glove." Even though he told her he wasn't interested, she said all he had to do was write a short explanation about the history, and she would do all the rest of the work.

Wymore was only one of three artists from the Western Slope to win an award in 2000, and his ropes and other braided crafts were on display at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival in Denver.

Wymore never went to see his art on display and said he didn't think much about the award they mailed him. But he eventually got around to digging through the envelope, and at the bottom he found a check for $4,000.

"It was something you never expect," he said. "This was not what I was doing this stuff for, but it was fun and I am proud as hell of it."

That check was the biggest profit Wymore has made from his arts. One of his rawhide ropes sells for $600, but he said the only sales are from personal contacts.

"You're not gonna be rich or famous, you just have fun," Wymore said. "You don't even try to make a living (from it)."

"It's a great art and it's going down the drain because no one wants to take the time to make it," he said, explaining that the same products he makes are now made in bulk from synthetic materials in different countries and imported into the U.S. and sold for a fraction of the price.

Wymore and his wife, Pat, have two children, two grandchildren and one great-granddaughter who live in town. He said when he started the group he was the youngest, and now he's the oldest, but he will continue to learn "old" arts as long as he can.

"I've had a blast, which is more than most people can say in retirement," Wymore said.

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