This is a story I wrote for our local weekly in February 2015. A local artist was selected to produce the cover for the 2015 Oklahoma Travel Guide. This is about that artist – John Rule.
By Brent Wilcox for the Minco Millennium
On the handsome cover of the new 2015 Oklahoma Travel Guide one will see the state bird, the state animal, the state flower and the state wild flower. It is not photographs gracing the new guide cover, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Bison, Oklahoma Rose and Indian Blanket are all carved into leather by John Rule, a local artist and leather craftsman.
Rule lives just over a mile west of Red Hill, south of Minco. He and his wife have lived here for about 8 years. Before moving to the Minco area he and his wife owned one of the oldest saddle shops still operating in Oklahoma, the National Saddlery located in the Oklahoma City Stockyards.
“It was started in 1926 and I worked there for 31 or 32 years. My wife and I bought it in 1980,” said Rule.
He told me he made his first belt at age 11. “It’s approaching 50 years,” Rule said when asked how long he had been tooling leather. “I made my first saddle when I was 16. It can be a fun hobby or a life-long journey.” Rule made it a life-long journey and clearly that decision has paid off when you view his artistry.
Rule was chosen as the Official Saddlemaker of the Oklahoma Centennial. The saddle he created is on display at the Oklahoma History Center. He thought that was probably how the Oklahoma Department of Tourism found him to approach him about creating the cover for the 2015 Travel Guide.
“They gave me size instructions, but had minimal input on the design,” Rule said about the cover. He had included the scissor-tail and bison on the Centennial saddle and he said it was pretty much a no-brainer to include them on the cover. He said once the design was completed and approved it took him about 7 days from start to finish on the cover. However, Rule’s work days are usually 12 to 15 hours.
About 90% of what he does is custom orders. “I do most everything in leather, except boots and shoes. Belts, billfolds and of course I still build saddles,” said Rule. He was working on a cover for a day planner while I visited with him for this story.
But leather is not his only artistic talent. Rule is also a magnificent sculptor. He’s only been sculpting with clay for about 10 years but as he explained, “Basically that is what I do with the leather, I sculpt it,” said Rule.
Rule is currently working on what will be a life-size bronze sculpture for Oklahoma City Community College. He has titled it “Downstream Drifters.” There are three longhorn steers with a cowboy on his horse using a hoolihan loop to rope the steers.
Rule explained that once he gets everything sculpted the way he wants it, it will then be broken down into pieces and they’ll create molds in his shop. The rubber molds will then be taken to a foundry in Wilson, Oklahoma and the molds will be poured with bronze. An interesting note on the foundry where his sculpture will be bronzed, Rule said, “It’s where they make the Heisman Trophies.”
When “Downstream Drifters” is complete it will be put on a large fountain with running water outside at OCCC. “The steers should be at about eye level when it is all finished,” said Rule. He hopes to wrap up the sculpting part of this process within the week. As soon as he is finished with this one, he will immediately begin on another custom ordered sculpture. He couldn’t disclose who it was for yet, but said it would be another cowboy on a horse to be displayed somewhere in Oklahoma City.
John Rule is a true artist who knows his craft and his subject matter. You can find him on Facebook under John Rule Saddlery if you would like to custom order a saddle, a belt or just about any other leather item or to custom order a sculpture to display at your home or business.