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Interviews

Lee Miller (Texas Traditions) I

April 6, 2014

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What îs your first memory regarding boots?

My first memory regarding boots was all the western movies and tv shows that were on when I was growing up. The stars of those shows all wore very cool boots and symbolized the rugged individual that stood up for fairness and always trying to do the right thing against all odds.

Ranch Brown French Calf Boots

You took over Texas Tradition more than 2o years ago.  How long was the road from Vermont to Austin?

My wife and I bought Texas Traditions in August, 1986. The path that led me to this point was a long one, starting out in 1972 with the dream of learning to make boots and shoes. I had grown up seeing my mothers Jodphurs and spending time in my grandfathers store, mostly in the shoe department watching my godfather Paul Venne fit shoes on every one who came from miles around. He could solve any fitting issues that the customers had and I was so fascinated this mystery that was footwear.
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Later, as a teenager, I worked in my fathers ski shop fitting ski boots. All of this came together in 1972 when I started down the path of making shoes and boots when I lucky enough to get a job working for Martin Lennoci learning how to repair shoes in his shop.
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Eventually, I attended a Boot Making class at Oklahoma State University. That period ( two years ) was when I really feel in love with cowboy boots and the western life that I was exposed to. The experience seemed to answer all the things I was looking for.

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After graduation, I accepted a position in Utah making cowboy boots and hiking boots. After a year, I was asked to come and work for Charlie Dunn in Austin, Texas. I had heard about Charlie when I was still in Vermont learning how to fix shoes and boots but never dreamed that I would have the chance to work for him. The minute I stepped into his workshop in November, 1977 I knew that I had found what I had been looking for. The boots and skills at Charlie’s were on another level.
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I stayed, worked and studied with Charlie and his staff and , in 1986, I was given the chance to own Texas Traditions. Little did I know, a new journey had begun.
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Charlie Dunn, your menthor, was a legendary name in American bootmaking. How would you describe the time spent with him and what was his  influence on your later career? 

Charlie Dunn was a remarkable man. He was from an Irish family that were shoemakers and bootmakers. He was born in 1898 on a houseboat in Arkansas, moved to Paris, Texas in a covered wagon. I always felt that working for Charlie was like working for history. He had made cowboy boots and shoes all his life, and if I wanted to know about styles or what it was like in the 1900’s, all I had to do was ask him.He was an incredible artist and used cowboy boots as his medium. All his life, he keep himself educated, reading always.
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He never stopped learning, and when asked ” how long does it take to become a bootmaker “, he would respond by asking ” how long do you except to live?“. He had a very sharp mind and an incredible will, so to me, I was in awe of of him. Yet, in me, he saw someone who had a reverence for the craft, and because of that, he took me and helped to shape a long haired young man from Vermont into a bootmaker. Working for Charlie was an opportunity to study with a true master, and he helped me become what I am today. Now, I see it as my role to not let any of this disappear,to pass it along to anyone eager for the same knowledge that I was looking for.
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Please tell me more about “Texas Traditions”  team.

Currently, I work with my wife Carrlyn, who runs the office and helps finish all the boots. Ben works with us, doing bottoming and came with a long background of bootmaking. Casey, who is 27, is an apprentice, also from Vermont like myself. At 21, she started working in Vermont learning to make shoes, and approached me to come to Texas and learn to make boots. She currently is making all of our boot tops but has done almost every other aspect in the shop.
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We have been fortunate in the past to have had many apprentices, from Germany, from France, from Japan, and for a short period, a shoemaker from Switzerland. Also, many bootmakers from Mexico and Guatemala have been here working. From each and everyone, I have learned something and you realize that every person that makes shoes or boots can help you become better at what you do.
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Carrlyn your wife is very much involved in the business. How did you met her and what is her role in Texas Tradition play?

I met Carrlyn when she answered an ad when the bootshop needed a secretary in 1980. We soon became very close and married in 1985, She was supportive from the beginning and her help has been crucial to any success we’ve had.
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When a customer comes in, Carrlyn works with them to design their boots. She runs the office, ordering leather and together, we design each pair of boots. Every pair of boots we make Carrlyn finishes, a part she greatly enjoys. The shop is really Carrlyn and myself, working together to create something. Without her, it wouldn’t be Texas Traditions.
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What is the most extravagant boot that a client has ever ordered?

It’s very hard to say what has been the most extravagant boot ever ordered, but the one I remember the most is when a customer wanted parts of a Picasso painting inlayed on his boots. What a treat and a challenge to do, and I discovered the greatness of Picasso when we made those.

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Do you have a favorite pair of boots or a favorite design? 

My favorite boot design is a vintage style, with some type of overlaid border at the top, and some beautiful fancy stitching on the boot shaft. My favorite toe would be a ” box toe ” with an elegant heel. Carrlyn likes tall, vintage stitched boots in earth-tones with a moderate heel and a pin toe round ( an old style of a narrow round toe ). Casey likes earth-tones also with vintage stitch patterns that have curves and circles as opposed to jagged lines.

Tan_French_Calf_Boots Cigar Full Quill & Smooth Ostrich boots Benedictine French Calf Rough Out & Slick Boots DSC00390 DSC09579 JR French Calf Boots Nicotine Full Quill Ostrich & Dark Brown Kangaroo Boots Dark Brown Elephant Boots DSC05264

to be continued…