By Cindy Jo Ayers
Gilchrist County is now home to a second generation of saddle makers. Jeff Beach of Beach Saddlery made his first saddle back in 1986. As a roper he understands what ropers need in a handmade saddle. Through the years the demand for Beach’s saddles has only grown. Beach said his reputation as a saddle maker is all word of mouth. The appreciation that those in rodeo have for hand crafted saddles and tack has helped the business grow through the years according to Beach.
Over a year and a half ago, Devin Beach Weaver joined her father in the saddle shop, learning to hand tool leather just as her father has the past 34 years. Devin said she has always loved to hang out in the shop with her father, even as a small child.
In third grade Devin made her first hand tooled belt for a school project. Now, she goes to work just down the road each morning at her father’s saddle shop. The shop is located on the family farm where five generations of her family have now lived.
While speaking about his daughter’s leather working ability, Beach said, “She is doing a good job and taking on more of the work.” Beach still builds the saddles and cuts the designs into the leather. Then Devin makes the work come alive with her hours of hand tooling on the saddles.
Beach said back when he got his start he only had a “how to book” to learn his craft. Then he met Red Osteen of Lake City who taught him a little about working with leather. Then he met Blake Kral, of Ocala who taught him a lot about tooling and a great deal about style and design in the art of leather tooling or carving. Then there was Bob Dellis down in Okeechobee who he visited a lot to improve his skills as a saddle maker.
With saddle orders coming in from Oklahoma, Texas, and the other western states as well as Florida orders, Beach Saddlery stays busy. Currently the waiting list for a saddle is about three years. Only about two saddles are built each month, because every aspect of the process is totally by hand. Beach said a plain saddle with no hand tooling takes around forty hours to build and a saddle with a lot of fancy tooling work takes at least twice as long. Through the years nearly 500 saddles have been hand built in the local saddle shop by Beach.
Devin has added a few things to the business including putting Beach Saddlery on facebook. She posts the finished saddles as they are completed. She posts some of her own work including her first handmade purse, which lead her into a little different direction from saddle making. She now regularly receives orders for such items as custom hand tooled apple watch bands, legal pad folders, earrings, caps and more.
Devin enjoys the creative design part of the custom orders for such items as gun straps. “Early in the morning, I like to get a cup of coffee and sit down with a pad and begin working on a design for my latest custom order.” Devin said, “The best part for me is when people get really excited about their custom orders and I enjoy the creative process when they just ask me come up with my own design.”
Devin thinks she might have gotten some of her artistic talent from her grandmother, the late Jane Beach. She said she always enjoyed spending time with her grandmother and first started drawing with her. Jane was known in her family for her watercolors and pastel works.
Beach said he also has always enjoyed art and enjoyed art class while in high school at Trenton. He went on to say his son, Garrett can work leather and has built saddles, but he had much rather farm.
Devin taught school for three years, then became a school guidance counselor for eight years. Beach said, “Then I roped her into helping me.”
She said she really enjoyed working with high school kids, but more than that she enjoys now having more time to spend with her own children since her career change. Devin finds that she and her husband, Ryan stay pretty busy with their children, Olivia and Levi, attending their school and sports activities.
Working at Beach Saddlery for the past year and a half has been very enjoyable creative experience for Devin. But, most of all she has really enjoys spending time with her dad, just one on one. Devin said, “I feel so blessed to be able to do this.”
Anyone wishing to learn more about the custom saddles or leather works being produced at Beach Saddlery can contact Devin through Beach’s Saddlery on facebook via a private message.
Jeff Beach passing his saddle making artistry down to the next generation
By Cindy Jo Ayers