Boot repairman creates Flint Hills art pieces
Tucked away in the basement of Salty Cow Mercantile, Bruce Brock works at his workstation, cutting strips into a piece of leather that will soon become a handcrafted work of art.
At first glance, Brock appears to be a grizzled country cowboy, wearing a plaid shirt, Wrangler jeans and cowboy boots. He talks about horseback riding and helping his friends herd cattle at their ranches. But beneath his outer appearance, Brock has many layers of artistic talent that are peeled away with time.
Brock owns Brock’s Boot & Saddle Repair, a small, comfortable shop located within Salty Cow Mercantile in downtown Cottonwood Falls, a business owned by Josh and Sam Lilley of Cottonwood Falls.
“I repair saddles, boots — I make quite a bit of things out of leather, whether it be from-scratch book covers, checkbook covers, money clips and chaps,” Brock said.
He also creates leather phone cases for various smartphones.
Before Brock began working with leather, he helped his dad with carpentry work. When his dad retired, Brock decided he didn’t want to work in carpentry by himself. Luckily, Randy Peterson, a friend of Brocks, had an empty store in Cottonwood Falls and asked him if he’d like to start a leather shop.
“I worked on my own boots,” Brock said. “I did every stitch by hand.”
Even though Brock had some experience in boot repair, he wanted to learn more. He spent a week in Lamar, Colorado, working with Miller Shoe Repair. He realized the area he lived in didn’t have a repair shop for items he used on a daily basis.
“My saddle was busted, and I thought, ‘Well, the closest place [to repair it] is 70 miles away,’ so I took it in and started working on it at the kitchen table, and that evening, I was done,” Brock said.
Brock discovered a room with shelves in the basement of the property he was living on, and he figured it would be a good place for a leather shop.
“That’s when I started working on different things,” Brock said. “It wasn’t long until word spread.”
Brock returned to Cottonwood Falls in 2007 after his stay in Lamar. He said he enjoys the slower pace of small town life.
“I like the people around here,” Brock said. “It’s home right now.”
BROCK DISCOVERS ART
Adorning the walls of his small leather shop, framed pieces of art depict different scenes of life on the prairie. Various mediums of art are represented, including charcoal, acrylic and watercolor. Brock created all of the pieces.
After working with boots and saddles for so long, Brock decided he needed to add something else to his tool belt.
“I just started brainstorming and thought, ‘Well, what can I do?” Brock said.
He began with pen and ink drawings that were later laser-printed onto pieces of leather, including book and checkbook covers. His interests quickly expanded, and he began creating pieces with acrylics, watercolors and charcoal.
Brock entered a piece in the art auction at Symphony in the Flint Hills. The painting depicts a cowboy on horseback against a vividly colored sunset over the Flint Hills.
The mixed colors of Brock’s artwork meshed with the wooden walls of his workshop create an old-time western feeling, reminiscent of a time when technology did not exist. Beyond his workstation, a clunky black laptop sits atop a cabinet, creating a contrast in décor and adding a taste of modern to the rustic workshop.
His parents bought him the laptop, and Brock decided it was a good idea to collect his thoughts in a document.
“I was thinking about writing down a story, and all of a sudden, it just sort of wrote itself,” Brock said.
“Cowboy Poet…Who Me?” features stories and poems about life on the prairie. Even though Brock said he can’t compare himself to well-known cowboy poet Baxter Black, he’s happy that he has his stories compiled.
“With writing something, I can just keep going and keep my thoughts together,” Brock said.
CONDUCTING BUSINESS IN COTTONWOOD FALLS
In addition to working on leather goods and various art projects, Brock takes time to contribute to the community. He has been an outrider for Symphony in the Flint Hills for four years, and he lends his artistic abilities to create pieces for other townspeople, including artwork on the front of Salty Cow Mercantile.
“I did the drawing on the awning — the guy riding the horse is Josh (the owner),” Brock said.
Brock says he likes having a business in Cottonwood Falls because of the slow pace.
“You’re waving to everybody and you know this person and that person,” Brock said. “You know, you walk down the street and you feel like you’re in the prairie.”
— Sean Jones