Spragg keeps western lifestyle through art, decor
Glenrock – It started out with a rusted out oblong tank, some old barn wood and a few other odds and ends. While most people would look at these items and think dump, Jim Spragg saw something else.
“I’ve had a lot of hobbies over the years,” the Glenrock crafter explains. “I’m not a master at anything, but I dabble in everything.”
“I was involved in team roping when I was younger,” he explains. “We’ve always had horses, and I enjoy the western lifestyle and way of life.”
It makes Spragg sad to see that way of life disappearing more each day, so to help keep it alive, he finds ways to re-purpose old western items into something people can use.
The oblong tank, for example, became a western bench that has become so popular he can hardly keep them in stock.
Learning to create
Before moving to Wyoming, Spragg lived in California, less than an hour outside Los Angeles. While he was there, Spragg had a trucking business.
“I learned how to do things like simple mechanics and welding because I couldn’t always afford to have everything done for me,” he explains. “I’ve always liked making things with wood, and recently, I started blacksmithing.”
Spragg also enjoys working with leather and has made a few saddles.
“Anything I am interested in, I hope I can make because I can’t afford to buy it,” he says.
While in California, Spragg also spent 15 years working in a studio in special effects.
“I was always manufacturing or building something,” he says. “I was the black sheep in the area. I was into team roping and working in the shop and studio making things. No one else did things like that.”
“I always considered myself blessed to be able to have cattle and horses, even though I was only 35 minutes outside Los Angeles,” Spragg adds.
Trash to treasure
Making western décor really appeals to Spragg. He makes small serving trays from old barn wood and accents them with horseshoes and brands to give them an authentic western charm.
Spragg used to work with horses, buggies and wagons, so he has a lot of hames and harness. He uses old hames to make different types of racks, wine racks and lamps.
One of his more unique items is a floral arrangement designed with steer horns as the vase.
“My wife really enjoys making floral arrangements,” he explains. “When I used to team rope, I had access to steer horns, so I would polish them up and make wrought iron stands to hold the horns. The horns serve as the vase, and my wife fills them with flowers.”
Spragg has also used some vaquero-style saddle trees to hold the floral arrangements, which serve as table centerpieces.
“They became really popular for western weddings,” he explains.
Moving to Wyoming
Spragg says a business opportunity brought him to the wide open spaces of Wyoming. A friend had just been awarded a contract for a windmill project in the Glenrock area and needed a dozer operator.
Spragg jumped at the chance.
“I worked on the project for two years, and during that time, I fell in love with the area and the people. We decided to stay,” he says.
Home is now a ranch and shop in Glenrock where his daughter, Stephanie Blackshire, owns and runs the Platte Ridge Equestrian Center, which is a full service boarding and training center for almost 50 horses. She also offers lessons to all ages from the beginner to advanced.
The family also has a retail store called AV Tack, where they sell horse tack, gear and saddles. It also gives Spragg another outlet for his western décor.
“I just started making and selling the benches in November,” Spragg says. “I’ve made 21 so far, and there are people ordering them most every day.”
When they purchased the ranch, Spragg says there were eight rusted tanks there that he wondered what to do with.
“I hate to throw anything away, so I decided to cut one up and make a bench,” he comments.
The benches have become so popular Spragg says it’s hard to find rusted tanks to make more.
“I have started making some benches out of barn wood, and they seem to go over pretty well, too,” he says.
He also accents them with old tin, brands and other items he finds lying around.
“I’ve had a lot of customers ask if I have a pattern I would sell to make the benches,” he says. “Every bench I make is different. I come up with new ideas to add to each one like a rope border around the top or brass tacks on the arm rests.”
Spragg does custom work, too.
“Some customers order items and want their own brand on it,” he explains. “When we go to trade shows, I have pictures of items I have made so customers can look at them and tell me what they want.”
The couple participates in a lot of trade shows in the Casper area, but a lot of their business has been by word of mouth. They also have a store website, AVtack.com, and a Facebook page where customers can see their newest items.
At the end of the day, Spragg feels good about his part in preserving western history.
“I’m a historical buff, and I feel like there are not enough people doing this type of art anymore. It is kind of a dying art, but there are a lot of people out there who still enjoy it,” he says. “I feel like the stuff I re-purpose is a major part of the history of America.”
Spragg comments, “I enjoy the history behind the items, and restoring history and re-purposing these items for someone else to enjoy gives me a lot of pride.”
Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.