| 2 min read | by Doug Marrin, firstname.lastname@example.org |
Stepping into Angelo’s Saddle Shop in Dexter is like taking a step back in time, into the old west to be exact.
Located in one of the outbuildings of the Dexter Mill, Angelo Pecora is well-known among the horse community for his saddle work. For non-equestrians such as me, the shop is a delight to stop in to browse the belts, wallets, money clips, and other hand-crafted adornments. The saddles, the holsters, the unfinished wood walls and floor, and of course Angelo himself dressed in western working garb is a scene right out of Gunsmoke, The Hateful Eight, or Westworld.
“I started here in 1997 right here in this shop,” says Angelo. “This was my saddle shop until I left in 2010 for Montana.”
In Montana, Angelo was living the cowboy-way playing banjo and singing, writing and reading cowboy poetry, and honing his artistry with leather in his saddle shop out there. But eventually, the call of coming back home got the better of Angelo. He packed up his tools and moved back to Michigan this past July setting up shop once again in his old place at the Dexter Mill.
“The building was still empty when I had left in 2010,” explains Angelo. “Gus helped me get all my stuff back in here. She helped me move all these heavy benches in here. She’s stronger than she looks.”
Beth Jarzabek, known to her friends as ‘Gus’, works with Angelo as an apprentice. She is learning the leathercraft making earrings, bracelets, belts, knife sheaths, wallets, money clips, and other leather products. It was one Hell of a meeting when Beth and Angelo first met, literally.
“I owned a party store in Hell and he ran the Hell Creek Ranch,” explains Beth. “He would come in for bad coffee a few times a week and we spent lots of time just talking and listening to one another. After being friends for five years, Angelo moved out to Montana and invited me out for a visit.”
Beth made several trips to Montana to visit Angelo and his wife where she too was drawn into the way of the west which would eventually lead her into an interest in working with leather.
Of course with any cowboy, you immediately think of six-shooters and a puff of gun smoke. Angelo has been involved in that too. It’s called ‘cowboy action shooting.’ This is where Angelo got started in leatherworks.
“It’s not trick shooting,” Angelo is quick to explain. “It’s reenacting where you dress up in the 1880s and use period-correct weapons. You shoot at steel targets and it’s a competition. I didn’t have a good holster, so I wanted to make a holster. I got some leather and ruined the kitchen table in the process, but I did it.”
“It was pretty crude, but I fell in love with it,” continues Angelo. “As I progressed, all I wanted to build were saddles. To me, that’s the epitome of leatherwork. If you can build a saddle, you can do anything you want.”
Angelo’s connection to the Dexter Mill goes back to the 1980s when the current owner, Keri Bushaw, was still in grade school. Angelo and Keri’s father both worked at the mill and were good friends.
“My dad and Angelo were friends,” explains Keri. “We would go over to their house and hang out with his kids, but when I really got to know Angelo was when I started working here at the Mill. He managed the store. He hired me to work on Saturdays. He always looked like a cowboy from a hundred years ago. As a teenager, I think I must have driven him crazy. But after my dad passed away, he kind of helped guide me.”
Angelo uses all American leather in his shop, cowhide, no alligator, snake, or any other exotic skins sometimes found in cowboy boots. His hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays. He and Beth specialize in custom leather goods, one of a kind accessories made to your liking. They invite folks to stop in and see some of their works.