The United States, for the most part, is devoid of much artisanship. Apprenticeship and rigorous trade certifications have never been a part of our culture like it has in Europe. For every 10 bespoke tailors in England or Europe, the United States has one. There are just a handful of true bespoke shirtmakers, primarily in New York. And there certainly are no bespoke shoe makers outside of a few hobbyists. However, in Texas, the custom bootmaker still thrives. And amongst bootmakers, there is one that reigns king: Lee Miller of Texas Traditions in Austin, Texas.
Lee’s craftsmanship easily rivals that of the most accomplished bespoke shoemaker abroad. He is regularly petitioned for apprenticeships and has hosted understudies from as far away as Japan and Europe. His waiting list for new customers is three years long and he has stopped accepting new customers altogether.
At the suggestion of a very well-informed customer in Austin, my wife Bianca and I had an opportunity to spend some time with Lee during a recent trip to the city. What we discovered was an accomplished yet incredibly humble artisan who is the unquestioned master of bootmaking. He uses bootmaking techniques that have changed little over the past century, still using 3/8″ nails hammered on an anvil for his shanks and wooden pegs to fasten the boot waste. The authenticity and commitment to craftsmanship is so incredible yet somehow understated. There is no pomp to what Lee does. His two-room workshop is something you’d expect to see on a distant Texan prairie not in the middle of downtown Austin. And with the exception of the iMac computer, very little looks new. Wooden pegs and shanks are kept in tin coffee cans that could be from the 60’s.
|A picture of the 3/8″ nail used by Miller for the shank of this boots, exactly as it was over 100 years ago.||The wooden pegs used to secure the waist in place. Most bootmakers use metal nails or glue.|
Lee’s customers regularily send in their boots to be resoled. With proper care, there is no question that a pair of boots by Mr. Miller could last decades, if not at least a generation. However, even boots require proper shoe polish, which is why I certainly recommend using Saphir Shoe Polish with your boots. With Saphir, not only are you going to achieve a better shine than with ordinary polishes, but, most importantly, the nourishment that Saphir Polish provides the leather will keep it soft and supple for as long as you take good care of it.
Lee is currently testing some of our Saphir Shoe Polish. I hope that soon he will be finishing all of his boots with Saphir Medaille d’Or, in keeping with his commitment to making the best cowboy boots in the world.