Charlie was born in 1898. He was born on the White River in Arkansas. He was always very proud of the fact that he wasn't born on land like a mere mortal. He was born on the water. They lived on a houseboat.
So anyway so Charlie's father and grandfather were shoemakers from Ireland. And so Charlie was a third generation. I believe it's third, either third or fourth. But Charlie worked with his dad in the trade until I believe he was about fourteen and then he packed his bags and left home. By that time he was living in Paris, Texas. So he left home and he grabbed his tool kit and he started his travels. And he traveled from shop to shop all over the country learning how to make boots and shoes. He worked in Memphis, Tennessee, Denver, Colorado, in Wyoming. He literally traveled just him and his tool kit. And he went from shop to shop learning, trying to get methods to continuously improve what he was doing. Charlie was working for Capitol Saddlery and he worked there for many years and that's where he was working when Jerry Jeff Walker wrote a song about him that I heard years later in Rutland, Vermont sitting in my driveway listening to that tape. So when I met him in 1977 he was 79 years old and two businessmen had opened the shop and brought him out of retirement to go ahead and to "please hire young people and train them so that when you're gone the craft would continue". Dr. Counts and Steve Weiner just said "Charlie you've got to come back to Austin. We'll set you up on the little shop, we'll hire young people, you can train them". It was their vision coupled with Charlie's that created Texas Traditions and if it wasn't for them I wouldn't be here.
Charlie was not a very big man. He might have been 5'6 weighed 135 pounds. He wore a beret that was his trademark.
He was bald, and leaving World War I,e was wearing a navy cap, a sailor's cap and somebody handed him a beret and that became his trademark. So he wore beret always. So that kind of gave him a little Parisian flair.
Well Charlie was, as I said, he was very artistic.
I mean he was a tremendous artist. But he studied human anatomy. And he told me that when he was living in Memphis, Tennessee, I don't know if it was 1930 or something like that, he knew a lot of starving artists. And he said he decided then and there he was going to put his artistry in his boot making so he would never starve. And that's what he did. And that's kind of why he became known for what he was known for being an incredible fitter, having a good understanding of human anatomy, and also his boots were very artistic.
What was artistic, I mean, was it the sculpture the design and the bootleg?
You know boots, I mean footwear is in a sense sculpture. And so a boot is a very long beautiful elegant sculpture. And so it's those lines that kind of made him stand out. No I mean he was doing all of his design work. You know behind me we've got cactus boots that, you know, that's all his artistry. It's one thing to go ahead and to just do fancy stitching, you know. But it's when you start taking it beyond that to where you literally are drawing something of beauty like a cactus or a barbed wire or or any iconic symbol. And putting it together and kind of like a it's like a painting of leather.