Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Sun NFR coverage
Tall in the saddle we spend Christmas Day, driving the cattle over snow-covered plains.
All of the good gifts given today, ours is the sky and the wide open range.
It’s Christmas for cowboys, wide open plains.
— John Denver, “Christmas For Cowboys”
The Cowboy Christmas Gift Show, the longest running and ONLY “Original” gift show of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, returns to Las Vegas with more wares to keep even the most avid shopper entertained all ten days.
— Internet home page for the Cowboy Christmas Gift Show.
The wide open plains may provide a sublime holiday experience. But if cowboys real and faux are on the hunt for holiday gifts, they’ll be heading to the Las Vegas Convention Center, home this week for nearly400 merchants hawking their wares on a concrete plain spreading over more than five football fields.
Imagine silver. Lots of silver. And turquoise, and burl wood tables and things leather — purses and belts and jackets and hats. Blankets and blouses and boots and booze (yep, a Jack Daniel’s concession stand). Ropes and rugs, saddles and sculptures, handguns and horse gates.
At a booth selling books you can pick up “Essential Guide to Calving” — and “Outhouses: Flushing Out America’s Hidden Treasures.” A few feet away, you can purchase a toddler’s sleeper, with a sweet drawing of a grazing pony. It says “Pasture Bedtime.”
After spending a couple of hours grazing at the gift show, we thought we’d share these items with you, starting at $5 and topping out at $175,000. That’s a lot of bucks, even for a rodeo.
Cowboy yo-yo, $5
Danny and Sandy Kamen came from Dyersville, Iowa (the setting for the movie “Field of Dreams,” they point out) to sell beautiful table lamps and other items, but what got our attention was Danny playing with a rubber ball attached to a three-foot piece of rope.
The goal: to jerk the ball upward just right so that when it goes back down, it leaves a half-hitch knot in the rope. He couldn’t do it. Sandy had no problem.
She makes these toys back home, having gotten the idea after watching an old Western. “A cowboy was on his horse, watching his cattle, and to pass the time he tied a rock to the end of his rope, and would flip the rock up and try to make a knot in the rope.”
Think stocking stuffer.
Mane and tail extensions, $17
Business partners Amy Moorhouse and Lorinda Van Newkirk’s homegrown business, Gypsy Soule, generally deals in footwear and accessories. But even horses need to look good, especially when racing around those barrels, so the ladies sell horsehair extensions, too.
The extensions come in a range of colors to add flair to your horse for those special occasions. Riding in a July Fourth parade? Get extensions in red, white and blue. Proud of your school? Think school colors.
Who are their best customers? “These things are grandma bait,” said Moorhouse. “They buy them for their granddaughters to put on their horses.”
Blanket-style, buckle-front dress, $223
This piece jumped out for its colors and style. It was designed by Tasha Polizzi and is sold at the gift show by Ann’s Turquoise, a family-owned company from Topeka, Kan.
Lesli May-Pagan said customers are looking for more embellished pieces. Think fringes, grommets and complex, embroidered patterns. “Customers want to make sure that nobody confuses what they’re wearing with what you’d find at a regular store,” she said.
Colt was quite the popular gun maker in 1873 when it came out with its Single-Action Army, the six-shooter favored by Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Doc Holliday.
That gun is still made and can be ordered at the show. (Photographed is a fancier version.)
“This isn’t the criminals’ choice for a weapon,” said Jim Hanson, a distributor for Colt. Yeah, cocking that hammer would slow down most crooks. “But this is very popular among collectors.” The sign hanging in near the gun case reads, “God created man. Colt made them equal.”
Seven-foot steel cactus, $1,750
Would a real cowboy buy a fake saguaro? Yeah, if the ones on his ranch are diseased.
Richard Turner, who used to build modular homes, and his son-in-law, Eric Carroll, who runs a metal shop, got together to build galvanized steel and core tin lawn décor, including the iconic saguaro as well as the more humble cactuses and fan palm trees. For a few more dollars, they come illuminated.
But seriously, a fake saguaro?
“They don’t grow everywhere but people love them. Just think of those John Wayne Westerns that always seemed to have a saguaro in the background.”
A collaborative piece by Colorado saddle makers Lisa and Loren Skyhorse and New Mexico woodworker Andy Sanchez, this one-of-a-kind saddle is a union of 2,000-year-old juniper wood, leather, sheepskin and antique Mexican sterling silver. It was completed last year and is named Compadres 2010.
“This saddle could be used, but it’s not for whiners,” Sanchez said. “It’s intended more for display.”
Even its stand is a piece of art.
Horse RV, $75,000
The sales spiel goes like this: Why have the husband pull the horse trailer and the wife pull the fifth wheel sleeping quarters when both rigs can be made one big one? Say hello to RodeoRigs.com, which sells a fifth-wheel trailer that holds four horses in the back and sleeps four people up front.
Imagine tooling down the highway, finding a pasture, pulling over for the night and taking the ponies for a ride. The units are custom built.
“Not everyone comes to the Cowboy Christmas show with $75,000 on them, but then they see our rig and that gives them ideas and we might hear from them six months later,” said salesman Courtney Higgins.
Prescott, Ariz., sculptor Bradford J. Williams created a bronze, 22-inch-tall piece with “Binding Contract,” depicting two cowboys atop their horses, reaching over a fence and shaking hands. That’s how business was done in the Old West.
An Oklahoma banker liked it a lot, and commissioned Williams to recast it larger-than-life. The result: a four-ton, 11-foot-tall sculpture. The banker ordered two. Williams has sold three others, and there are 15 of the edition remaining. Williams has other sculptures at the show, too, including a poignant piece (with recirculating water) titled, “Friends Drink First,” a cowboy at a hand pump, tending to his thirsty horse. The limited edition (15 pieces) goes for $110,000.