Its amazing how Kevin Johnson brings back old world craftsmanship. He’s making old West craftsmanship in his humble shop in Clarendon, Texas. With all his antique collections and Texas Ranger memorabilia, he works diligently until early morning hours. He makes bits, spurs, buckles, badges, and more. Creativity runs in the Johnson family. He and his siblings were encouraged to create things when they were still growing up.
“We grew up making our own toys. If we wanted to play something we had to build it.”
He started customizing grips of guns for his friends as he was growing up. After that, he became interested working with silver and metal. Then he started learning custom engraving by teaching himself.
“I bought me a set of engraving tools, read a little booklet on how to use them, a little bit on how to do silver work and hammer work and saw work and just kind of went crazy from there. I practiced enough that I developed it I guess you might say.”
It was special for Johnson to create something for the longstanding law enforcement agency. He engraves guns, badges and belt buckles. Few were eager to teach him because there were only 248 known makers of what he was interested in during the time when he started engraving.
“A lot of what I had to do by hand was because I didn’t realize you could do it any other way. I didn’t realize you could buy equipment to do some of the jobs that I do. So I wound up making a lot of my own stuff–my own tools and things. That’s why I do most of it by hand now.”
Also known for intricate details that he wove out of iron and steel, Johnson said that a simple set of spurs take two days to make. He also said that it takes a week or two to design a more elaborate “presentation spur” and takes two or more weeks to make. He gets numerous requests for custom-made accessories like belt buckles. He also makes jewelry with Western flare.
“When you look at my work you can tell that it’s got good finished work to it, it’s got craftsmanship to it and it’s got a lot of pride in it when it was being made.”
Everyone, even presidents, want to have a piece of Kevin Johnson on them. It may be in their boots or in their holster. A set of spurs he made was able to make it to the white house when he made some for former President George Bush.
“I was friends with several congressmen from here in Texas and one of them asked if I’d be interested in doing [George W. Bush] a set right before he went out of office. So I built them for him and they presented them to him at a Christmas White House ball,”
Whether it is for a president or for an average citizen, Johnson said that his biggest challenge was achieving what the customer has in mind for their order.
“If you can make it happen and they pick it up and their eyes light up and they’re like ‘that’s exactly what I thought it was going to be like’ that’s the most challenging part. It’s just pleasing the person who ordered it.”
Being in tune with his craftsmanship, Johnson can recognize his work without even looking.
“When an old cowboy walks the spurs jingle…they make a certain sound. I use my own type of metal. I work it in my own way so it’s got its own sound. Somebody can walk in the back of an old cafe somewhere and I can hear that thing ring.”
Check Johnson in action. Watch this video by the Texas Country Reporter.[like_button]