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Art of Leather - Local Craftsman Puts Unique Stamp On Handiwork

POSTED September 13, 2011 9:48 p.m.

El Charro Rubio Talabarteria is relatively new to Oakdale, but its owner is a life-long leather craftsman. Jorge Rubio hand crafts leather saddles, gun holsters, and just about any other leather work imaginable. He also tools and sews intricate designs into many of his works. Rubio has been working with leather most of his life, and he now owns Charro Rubio Leather Works in downtown Oakdale, off South Yosemite Avenue.
As much artist as businessman, Rubio displays a wide range of skill just in the items you can find in his shop. It’s a craft that has its roots in his childhood, a skill handed down from generation to generation.
The talabarteria carries everything from saddles hand-fabricated from crocodile skin to gun holsters and leather cell phone holders. Talabarteria is the Spanish word for a Saddlery and harness maker’s shop. Rubio specializes in ornate Mexican Charro style saddles that he makes by hand in the shop.
“I have been making this type of saddle for about 40 years now,” Rubio said.
 “Charro” is a traditional Mexican horseman or cowboy. There is still a strong tradition of the Charro image among Mexican Americans, and many Californians participate in Mexican rodeos called charreadas. Charro saddles are different from American Western Saddles in both function and decoration.
The Charro saddle has a wide wooden horn at the front, which is much larger than the horn on a Western saddle. The main difference between the two saddles, however, is the level of ornate decoration on a Charro saddle.
That’s where the artistry comes in.
Rubio carves decorations into the leather saddles by hand, a process that can take several weeks to complete. He said that some of his decorations can take up to a month, depending on how detailed it is and what material he is using. He also braids and sews together the detailing for leather saddles and brindles.
Rubio starts each Charro saddle by ordering a wooden mold from Mexico. The mold for a Charro saddle is the horn and frame for the saddle and is a permanent part of the saddle. He paints the mold to match the leather of the saddle, and he can sometimes repair wooden molds if they become cracked or broken. Then he hand makes the leather parts of the saddle around the wooden base, and decorates the saddle with anything from cowhide to crocodile skin.
“One like that can take about a month to make,” Rubio said of a cowhide saddle in his shop.
Rubio said that one of the more popular saddles he makes is a Charro saddle decorated with crocodile skin. His display model in the shop is red alligator skin with black leather detailing and side saddle bags.
Jorge’s wife, Maria, said that some of the more decorative saddles are used in parades and at special events. They also make saddles for working ranchers and rodeos, and even the working saddles have decorative accents.
“Some of the more decorated ones can sell for $6,000, but most of them sell for less,” Maria said.
Rubio has been working with leather and making saddles since he was around 10 years old. His grandfather, who raised him, owned a leather working business. Rubio started helping in his grandfather’s business when he was a little boy, and his grandfather taught him most of what he knows about leather working. He continued his grandfather’s work and branched out to other leather working trades. He worked for a shoe repair shop in Oakdale for several years. He previously ran the saddle making business out of his house, but he and Maria decided to open a business in a downtown store front to sell saddles and other horse gear.
Jorge and Maria Rubio opened El Charro Rubio Talabarteria in July 2010. In addition to saddles, the leather works store also sells and repairs other horse accessories including spurs and bridles. Maria said that many of their customers participate in Mexican style rodeos, but some just need repairs on their saddles. Jorge can do most repairs to western style saddles at the shop. He can repair most saddles and leather items.
 El Charro Rubio Talabarteria also sells gun holsters, belts and a variety of smaller leather items. Jorge Rubio hand braids and sews the leather belts and decorates gun holsters with tooling to match the saddles. Maria said that they also sometimes make special request items.
The store is located at 262 S. Yosemite Ave., in Suite G. Their phone number is 594-7021.

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