The Sky Islands atmosphere has attracted yet another nationally recognized artist and craftsman to Sonoita. Douglas Krause arrived here from California in 2019 to continue his trade as a saddle maker, a leather worker, a horsehair mecate braider and a hitching (a craft that combines elements of weaving and braiding) specialist.
Krause has made his life’s work around horses and their equipment. Starting life on a farm in Idaho, Krause says he got his love of horses from his father. A rodeo scholarship for bull riding led Krause to junior college where he earned an Equine Training and Management degree. He attended the University of Northern Colorado, earning a degree in small business management.
Krause started braiding bull ropes in 1973. He competed in rodeos in the NIRA (National Intercollegiate Rodeo Assn.), then moved on to the PRCA after graduation and continued his professional rodeo career as a bull rider. He traveled the west and even worked for Universal Studios in Hollywood on their production of the mini-series Centennial, filmed in the late 1970s. Krause stated that it was a great experience and a very footloose time in his life.
In 1981 Krause began a four-year apprenticeship with T.J. Holmes, a nationally recognized saddle maker in Cheyenne Wyoming. Since his apprenticeship was unpaid, he earned money working for UPS at night, getting little sleep throughout those four years. He also was a rodeo coach for Cheyenne College at that time.
After completing his apprenticeship, Krause managed Holmes’ saddle shop. 1984 saw the end of his professional rodeo career, so when Holmes retired, Krause purchased the equipment from the shop and started his own business as a saddle maker, while training horses on the side.
Continuing his travels throughout the west, 1995 found Krause in California where he bought his unique hitching and braiding equipment from a retiring blind braider, known as “Blind Bob” Nichols. Krause honed his skills with this equipment, figuring out the intricacies of the craft and the new machinery as he went along.
All his braided and hitched items are created from horsehair. Krause can dye the hair any color, which allows him to create some exceptionally beautiful and unique patterns for his bracelets and belts, the main items that he makes with this brightly colored hair. He also incorporates some of the more subtle colors into his braided mecates, creating one-of-a-kind, very distinctive elements for western bridles and hackamores.
Krause’s unique art form and talent has earned him two top national awards. In 2001 he won the “Will Rogers Artist of the Year” award from the Academy of Western Artists for his hitches and braiding. In 2019 Krause again attained the same top honor from this national organization as the Saddle Maker of the Year. He is the only artist to have won this award in two different categories. This is the equivalent of an Oscar, as one is judged by his peers and fellow artists of that genre, making the award most treasured and respected.
Krause is a most modest artist. When asked what famous people he has done work for, he demurred and said that he preferred those purchases be kept confidential. He also stated that “I would rather be known by my work than by who purchased it, thus letting my work speak for me.” He has created his own unique, graceful patterns for his leatherwork and saddle making and stated that the creation of those patterns is what he enjoys the most. The actual carving is the ‘work’ part.
His unusual and exciting life, Krause stated, “Comes from my willingness to say ‘yes’ to life, to the next great adventure, and I’ve always said yes and mine has been an exquisite journey. I am so thankful for Patti [Patti Hughes, his partner] who gets it, and has blessed me with freedom, trust, encouragement and the most beautiful life.”
One can view his creations of horsehair mecates, bracelets, belts and his custom saddle and leather work on his Facebook page: Krause Saddle Company. There he also has videos from workshops he has conducted explaining some of his work.