Enter the Oasis

The Fallon Cowboy Who Turns Spurs, Bits and Western Tack into Art

10 Apr 2024
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It’s a cold winter day when John Mincer steps into his Fallon silversmithing workshop and stokes the woodstove. Around him, saws, hammers, engravers and brushes line work benches and tables. This is where metal becomes art and that art is put to use on Western ranches for generations.

Spurs, bits, saddle buckles and other items of tack line the walls, each showcasing Mincer’s namesake flowing lines and contrasting silver-and-black patina. Upstairs, prized works are wrapped delicately in cloth, and Mincer ascends a ladder to bring them down to the workshop. These are pieces crafted with the deft hand of a jeweler. Gold leaf and delicate silver. Intricate designs flowing into each other in fluid but powerful lines. These are collectors pieces that will last many lifetimes.

Mincer is a product of Fallon, yet relies on a deep Western tradition of silversmithing that dates back generations. It’s a balance between honoring the silversmithing tradition and carving out his own style. Mincer has been so successful at it that collectors from around the world — as far away as Australia and Western Europe — seek out his designs. 

From Mind’s Eye to Metal

Mincer’s inspiration comes spontaneously. The Great Basin landscape influences his art, but when a design comes to him it is not a direct replication of anything he sees around him. Instead it enters his mind and he begins to draw it out on paper.

“Sometimes I get a vision, I can see things and I’ll sit down with my pencil and start drawing,” says Mincer. “I don’t have a canvass or a picture in front of me to look to copy or to be inspired by or I’m not looking at something, I see something and I sit down and draw it.”

Some of the designs repeat and link together like the “Sweetheart” bridle set he created that has over 70 hearts worked into the spurs, bit and headstall. Others are crafted from head-turning materials, like the Weatherford Spurs built with 18-karat gold.

What Mincer is most proud of is the creation of his own style. People can spot a Mincer-designed piece easily, owing to the originality of the work. That style came from endless hours of refining his own artistic vision.

 I did that by not looking at other people’s work and getting the inspiration from within,” says Mincer. “And it’s hard to do that nowadays because of all the different silversmiths out there. There’s very few people that are in the business that you can look at a piece of work and know exactly who built it. And there’s only a handful of those around. Most everybody else tends to want to, I’m not going to say copy design, but they’re very influenced by your design and your methods. And so when you come up with your own style and know that that’s your style, that’s a real reward to me.”

Fallon is a place where ranching is still alive and thriving. It is one of the main identities of the past and present. And working in an area where working cattle ranches still shape the city connects Mincer back to his roots as a horseman.

“In Fallon, here’s a lot of people own cattle, a lot of people own cattle. There’s a lot of really good horsemen here. It’s been passed down from generation to generation. And a lot of these people that come here a hundred years ago, their families are still here and operating ranches here,” says Mincer.

You might classify much of Mincer’s work as art, but it is functional ranch equipment just the same. That practicality, and usefulness is engrained in Mincer as a cattle rancher and horseman. He’s not making jewelry after all.

“Being that horseman is very important to me because I grew up around horses and the old timers, they didn’t really teach you anything. You had to really watch ’em to learn. And so I always wanted to be a good horseman. That was one of my main dreams. I haven’t got there yet. I’m way off. But there are a lot of good horsemen in this valley, good ones. And it was so important to me to be able to build a bit and a pair of spurs that was functional ,” says Mincer.

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