What began as a spur-making class has now become a full-fledged associate of applied science degree at Tucumcari College in Arizona, according to the Albuquerque Journal. Farrier Eddy Mardis began teaching the farrier science program 13 years ago at Mesalands Community College, founded as Tucumcari Area Vocational School, and his hobby of engraving has become a way of life for some students.
Mardis grew up on a ranch in Muleshoe, Texas. He earned degrees in animal science and secondary education, was a competitor in calf and team roping rodeos and also achieved certification as a journeyman farrier. After a few years of teaching farrier science at Mesalands, Mardis saw a man doing some engraving, which inspired him to give it a try.
“After I’d been engraving for about a year, I had people who had been doing it 20 years asking me questions,” Mardis says in an interview. “It was just a gift I had inside of me that I didn’t even know about.”
Around the same time that Mardis picked up the hobby, Mesalands added a class on spur-making. Mardis, who began as a teacher of farrier science at Mesalands, branched out into teaching the cowboy arts, the Western silversmithing and the fabrication courses. More classes sprung from it and eventually, it became a recognized program. Starting January 2019, the school is offering a 2-year associate of applied science curriculum for cowboy arts. Now students can take English composition and basic algebra in their first year, alongside Beginning Spur-Making and Engraving I. In the second year, classes include public speaking, a science course and classes on bit design and fabrication.
“There is a market for the spurs, for the bits, for all kinds of Western paraphernalia,” Mardis says. “There is a big market for knife engraving and a huge demand for gun engravers.”
Mardis’ spurs, bits and buckles are now being sold across the U.S.
The program seems to be a good fit for many students. Shyla Curry is on the path to becoming the first student to complete the associate degree in cowboy arts at Mesalands. She grew up in the cattle business in Texas but decided to pursue a slightly different career due to her creative abilities.
Curry tried several things in school before walking away. Her mother told her about the cowboy arts program, so Curry decided to give it a try.
“The hands-on aspect of the program is a really good fit for me,” Curry says. “And Eddy encourages us and helps us a lot.”
At first, the engraving was hard for Curry. She thought her creative talents in drawing and painting would translate into engraving. That wasn’t the case, but she worked at it and has become quite skilled. She is selling belt buckles for $275-$350 that took her 5-6 hours to make.
Another student in the program is Wyatt Bishop who grew up in Tucumcari under a father who made boots. Bishop especially enjoys making spurs, which are a nice compliment to the boots his father makes.
“I really like the fabrication end of (cowboy arts), and I think spurs have the most in-depth fabrication,” Bishop says. “I took to fabrication quickly because I knew how to do welding from shop classes in high school.”
Bishop can sell his spur sets for $400; it takes him 3-4 days to make them. His buckles start at $125 and take him 2-3 days. Selling his art pieces will be a sideline business while he studies and eventually makes a career out of animal science through agricultural marketing, working for a feedlot or being a cattle buyer.
“This is probably one of the few programs in the world in which you can pay your way through college by selling what you make,” Mardis says.
The skills taught in the cowboy arts degree aren’t just for making pretty buckles and spurs. The skills taught include welding, soldering, milling and working a lathe. These blue-collar skills are in high demand and can help students find a job after college, whether it’s making art or working in an airplane factory. The versatility of the degree offers students many options.