Friday, March 30, 2007


Talabarteria: The art of making saddles.
Deborah Mounts

What a word! It is hard to find in a Spanish dictionary and even harder for me to remember. But I will now that I have met Sr. Cesar Guzman Ruiz, a master craftsman who lives in Coatepec. As our business group, ProCoatepec, consists of members who are new to this small town we have taken it upon ourselves to uncover “hidden” treasures to help us learn our town’s history. Sr. Guzman falls into this category, as he is, indeed, a treasure!

His story is both unique and fairly common in Mexico. First, let’s look at his uniqueness.
His father, the patriarch Melton Guzman, was one of 16 siblings born in a small village in the northern State of Hidalgo in the early part of the last century. As he grew into a young man he realized that his village did not offer any viable future so he migrated to the State of Veracruz, first settling in Jalapa and then moving 10 miles away to Coatepec.

This was in the days when coffee was king and he had no trouble finding employment in the surrounding coffee plantations. Eventually, though, the senior Guzman decided to leave this line of work and start his own business. He knew that in those times ranchers and plantation owners relied on the horse for transportation, so he decided, in 1935 to begin to make saddles. He settled his family with its 6 children into a large colonial house still located on September 16 Street where he paid the sum of 8 pesos a month rent (about $10 in today’s value!!) He traveled to nearby villages to talk with ranchers and show them his work. He was a stickler for quality and instilled that characteristic into his son, Cesar, as he began to teach him the trade. Cesar proved even more adept at this highly skilled trade and left school after junior high to work with his father. He has been a phenomenal success since he took over after his father’s death 20 years ago.

His demonstrated to our group how a saddle begins life as a chunck of wood that has to be carved into a base upon which the leather saddle is mounted. (see foto) Everything is done meticulously by hand. Measurements are exact, 14 inches from pommel to the rise in the back. He explained that the best comes from Jalatlaco a neighborhood near the center of Oaxaca. The skins arrive as smooth as honey and very pliable ready for Cesar to create his magic. His saddles are truly works of art and can cost upwards of usd$25,000 for a finely embroidered one that takes a year to make. His saddles have ended up on horses owned by the King of Spain and Vincente Fernandez, a famous Mexican singer. A tooled leather plaque he made w presented to Pope Juan Carlos who gave him a medal in return.

Sr Guzman is proud of his life’s work…and here is the “common” part of his story…there is no one to carry on this tradition. His children have all become professionals and do not have an interest in maintaining this demanding tradition rich in history. Times have changed and the heyday of modern saddlery (the 60’s to the 80’s) has given way to ranchers using trucks.
Sr Cesar still has many years left in which to produce his works of art as well as fine tooled book jackets, purses and wallets. I would encourage anyone interested in owning one of his fine products to contact me.

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