Silver heirlooms: Shoults creates custom workWritten by Gayle Smith
Gillette – As one of silversmith Skeeter Shoults’s customers examines his new pair of silver spurs, he is intrigued by their detail and the quality of work. As he shows them off to friends and neighbors, he is sure they will become an heirloom treasure passed down to future generations.
Shoults is a silversmith who grew up on the family ranch in Van Tassell, and while growing up he was intrigued by silver and blacksmith work.
“My great-grandfather was a blacksmith, and I was always intrigued by his work. When I was little, I still remember watching Grandpa and Dad build some spurs in the shop. That sparked my interest, and by the time I was 13 or 14 I had built my first pair of spurs,” he says.
Shoults enjoyed silverwork immensely, and, by the time he was 15, neighbors around the area were placing orders for his silverwork designs. His continued receiving orders through high school and college and has continued to expand his business ever since.
Although Shoults admits he is primarily self-taught when it comes to silverwork, he has worked with Ken Dixon to learn the basics of engraving.
“He got me started, and I continued to learn by studying the work of other engravers,” he explains. “Soldering is the hardest part of the process. It seems like one day everything will go really smoothly, and the next day it’s a disaster!”
Shoults builds many things out of silver, including jewelry, buckles, conchos, knives, spurs and bits. He also makes smaller items like key fobs and horn caps.
“Most of my customers are from around this region, but I have had orders from all over the United States, and from coast to coast,” he says. “I have developed my customer base mainly by word of mouth. My website also generates some business, as well as the few trade shows I go to.”
Shoults says the best part of silvermaking is creating something that will last and is of heirloom quality.
“I want the customer to be excited when he gets it, and be proud to show it off,” he says. In fact, Shoults has been asked from time to time to remake heirloom pieces, like a spur, when one has become lost.
“Making custom orders can be time-consuming, depending upon what the customer would like,” he says. “Most people just give me a call on the phone, and I can sketch up a design based on what they want, and send it to them. Sometimes they will have a spur or bit that is close to the design they want, and they just want some slight modifications made.”
“There are a few of my customers who will either describe to me what they want, or send me a design,” he continues. “Some of the design base, especially for bits and spurs, is from traditional cowboy gear. You take the basic bit or spur design, then modify it, giving each piece your personal touch.”
Shoults says most of the time he is three months out on orders, so if a customer wants an item, he can usually have it started within that amount of time.
When he attends trade shows, he takes some of his own designs, as well as some finished items.
“I usually take a small jewelry case and a few bits and spurs so people can look at my work,” he explains. “Since most of my customers want something custom-made, I usually just take orders at the shows.”
In creating his own designs, Shoults says he likes to sit down with a pencil and paper and sketch until the piece he is thinking of appears on paper. He says he’s fortunate to have help from his brother Travis and good friend John Riehle, who also enjoy helping him with designs and building things when they have time.
“When we get together, they will jump right in and help build spurs or bits or whatever I happen to be working on at the time,” says Shoults.
“As far as designs go, I think King Solomon said it best in Ecclesiastes 1:9: ‘What has been, will be again, what has been done, will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.’ Every time I think I have done something new and different, it seems like I run into a similar design somewhere else,” he says, laughing.
Although Shoults lives in Gillette and helps his wife Carla, who is an eye doctor with her own practice, he hopes to eventually move back to Van Tassell to help with the family ranch. In the meantime, he plans to continue building his silvermaking business, and trying new projects.