Tahlequah Daily Press


January 7, 2014

Equine accessories evolve into art form

TAHLEQUAH — Accessories make a fashion statement for most ensembles. For the fashion-conscious, finding a belt or piece of jewelry that completes an outfit and is a one-of-a-kind experience.

Leather artist Catherine Louene “Lou” Scarsdale has always loved horses. She rode at an early age and continued during adulthood, when military assignments allowed it. Her husband, Bobby, retired after 25 years in the Army and with a second retirement in 2011.

She derived her artistic inspiration through travel to Indiana, Michigan, Canada, Alaska, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Mexico, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, and Greece, much through her husband’s service in the Army.

“You see so many beautiful pieces of art when you travel,” Scarsdale said. “I have used silver and stones, including ivory, jade, and bits of gold from Alaska and ornaments of various forms I’ve found, unaware I would eventually be using them on a belt.”

It isn’t unusual for a retired person to discover artistic talents. As Scarsdale found herself unable to continue riding due to health issues, she found she could keep in touch with her equine passion through leatherwork.

About eight years ago, she started making snaffle bit belts and boot bracelets after seeing a picture of a girl wearing a snaffle bit belt in a magazine.

“I fell in love with the belt and decided I could add something to them to make them more interesting,” Scarsdale said.

She uses leather belts, snaffle bits, ornaments, jewelry and conchos to create one-of-a-kind fashion accessories.

“I find them at garage sales, resale shops, and friends. Occasionally I will buy one that I just have to have,” she said.

Deciding what to put on a belt and gathering the material takes longer than making the belt and boot bracelets, she said.

“Sometimes I spend several days putting one together,” she said. “On custom orders, I try to get one out quicker.”

Last week, she was deciding where to cut the leather on a belt she’d made, and sold, but the owner had lost a lot of weight.

“She put it on her hips and it slid right down,” Scarsdale said. “I’m taking about 4 inches off of it.”

Many tools Scarsdale uses were her father’s, so they’re special to her. The tools line her work table, along with many other pliers, cutters, punches and grips.

How do you wear

that belt, exactly?

More than 100 leather belts hang in her shop, and each design is unique. She cuts leather in black, white or shades of brown, and lays it out on her work table. Some belts are reversible, and others are in sections and can be black and brown mixed or all one color. After setting out the design, she begins to attach the leather and silver pieces together.

“People sometimes as me how they’re supposed to buckle the belt,” she said. “You buckle it in the front and slide it around. It’s usually worn down on the hips, not through belt loops.”

Scarsdale has not competed in any shows, but does sometimes go to shows to sell her leather art.

“I only have compliments from people who appreciate my work,” she said. “They are my personal enjoyment. A friend, who considers my belts art, displays them on her wall, along with similar objects.”

When she’s not making accessories, Scarsdale participates with the 20th Century Study Club, Oklahoma Lupus Association, United Methodist Women and First United Methodist Church.

The Scarsdales moved to Tahlequah about 13 years ago to be near son Trey and their granddaughter, Maddie, a freshman at Tahlequah High School, and two grandsons: Shadoe, who works and attends school in Florida, and Colin, a student at Oklahoma State University.

Scarsdale, a graduate of Tupelo High School, said her claim to fame is knowing Blake Shelton when he was a youth. She attended Draughons Business College in Dallas after high school.

The couple said they enjoy living in Tahlequah, and the nice people they’ve come to know since retiring here.

“I am married to one of the best husbands you could ask for,” she said. “I love to travel to visit relatives and friends in Virginia and Texas.”

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