For many makers, the joy in their work is sparked when they’re called upon to build a particular piece or get to the part of the building process that called to them to become craftsmen in the first place. But for Cheyenne, Wyoming’s Justin Erickson, although the making part is certainly enjoyable, it’s the opportunities to contribute his work to the benefit of others that win his heart.
“Probably my favorite thing to do is build for benefits,” Erickson said. “I don’t take nothing out of it. I don’t get paid for them and I don’t expect to. It’s helping the community out and donating to a good cause.”
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When he comes across the right opportunities, the benefits of doing the donated piece far outweigh the costs. First and foremost, the donation helps a person or organization in need, like the young boy battling cancer and cost of care in Buffalo, Wyoming, or the Miss Rodeo Colorado organization to promote the sport of rodeo and the professional growth of the young women who support it.
On the next level, however, crafting for free allows Erickson a creativity that is often hindered by more traditional, commissioned works.
“A lot of times, when you do a benefit, you get to do exactly what you want to do,” Erickson said. “You learn what you can build for them benefits and what sells for them. Like, Buffalo, Wyoming, you’re going to build a little bit of a bigger rowel for up there because they kind of like the punchy stuff. Or, in Colorado, you build a roper-style spur.”
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Erickson’s style does lean toward cowboy, but by tapping into the leanings of the folks supporting the benefit, he can also up the chance of his work drawing in bigger auction bids, for instance, which then goes right back to what inspired him in the first place: Doing good for the cause.
“I’ll probably build a pair of Chihuahuas I [might] never ever build again. So, they’re going to be 100% custom.”
On the cowboy maker timeline, Erickson is certainly on the making-a-name side of the spectrum. A Grover, Colorado, native, he committed the majority of his adult years to a career in oil and gas that supported him and his son, Lane. He was a maker on the side until 2020, when all roads pointed to him taking a leap of faith and becoming a full-time craftsman.
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His spurs and buckles—all hand-cut—are his bread and butter, but he’s fully in the business of crafting whatever his clients can dream up, from necklace pendants to branding irons and a whole lot in between. He’s rolled out a few bits, as well, but he wants to pursue them more before he’s really ready to stand behind his mark on them.
“I don’t want to be the maker that screws up a horse,” Erickson offered. “I’ve went back and done a lot of research on Crockett bits and Bayers, so I know that I’m building a bit that is going to work, be functional and keep a horse healthy.”
Between his do-good aspirations and commitment to quality, it’s no wonder Erickson already has a cache of repeat clients. He’s also offering entry-level maker’s clinics, which he teaches regularly at capacity.
“I do a two-day buckle class and a three-day spur class. I love teaching these students. They walk in not knowing anything and they walk out with a finished belt buckle [or pair of spurs] they built themselves.”
Erickson shares his work often on his Facebook and Instagram accounts for J. Erickson Spurs & Buckles. Basic spurs start at $500, or you can build your own in his class for $650. Buckle classes are $325.
If his prices seem on the modest side, they’re a good match for Erickson’s character, who finds the camaraderie and creativity within the craftsman community invaluable.
“I don’t want to be the best maker out there,” he said. “I want to be one of the best.”