Lovell resident and self-described cowboy artist Ernie Marsh is being featured in an Oklahoma City exhibit this week.
Called Cowboy Crossings, the exhibition & sale, held from Thursday Oct. 4-6, is a culmination of over 20 years of local work from Marsh. Marsh is a founding member of the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association and has had work featured with the organization since they were founded. The exhibition will feature other TCAA members alongside him.
Marsh, and his wife Teresa, owners of the Marsh Bros Silver & Saddle Shop, produce handmade bits and spurs that they sell all over the world.
“We send bits everywhere, Pennsylvania, east coast, west coast, everywhere in between,” Ernie said. “We sell in Alaska, Canada, we have a lot of sales in Canada. A lot of sales in Europe.”
All of the production for their international business takes place in a tiny shop near Lovell, at the side of their small home. Located nearly a half hour out of town, near the Georgia Pacific gypsum plant one can not find their shop through GPS, and it’ll take a sheet full of instructions to find it. Few have ever been to it.
Before they talked to the Lovell Chronicle, Ernie and Teresa had just completed the siding for their house by themselves, the last of their major repairs from hail damage. Living that far away from town, most contractors charge a hefty increase for the efforts to find them, so the couple do just about everything themselves.
It’s the same kind of spirit, independence and work ethic one finds in their work.
Most of the sold bits are in the style of noted bit maker Al Tietjen, who developed a bit that was quick to produce, high quality and affordable. After purchasing the design himself in the 1990s, Ernie and Teresa have produced nearly 200 of them a year out of their shop, selling them for around $275 apiece.
But, there is far more ornate work done in the shop as well, and these are what’s being featured in Oklahoma City.
For the last 20 years, Ernie has produced three to four museum pieces a year.
“It starts with flat Miller steel,” Ernie said. “The same steel everyone in Lovell uses.”
And then there’s up to 100 hours of work, handsawing and handfiling the steel down into intricate bridle bits and spurs. Once the shape of the piece is formed, engraved steel, silver and gold is melded into the piece, and then, as with all of his pieces, he finishes with a French grey finish.
Marsh’s vision for bits and spurs became reality with the help of the late Elmer Miller of Nampa, Idaho, who personally instructed Marsh in just over a month 28 years ago.
But his passion began before that, originating from several years of ranch work and cattle driving in Eastern Oregon and Star Valley, where he resided before coming to Lovell.
His bridle bits are of the California tradition, which allows a rider to direct his horse using only one hand. He was drawn to it by practicality.
“For livestock work, it’s best to do as (little) work as possible,” Ernie said.
Marsh’s pieces can be ordered directly off his website, www.spanishspade.com, and the Marsh Brothers Silver & Saddle Shop in Etna. The best way for those interested to see his work is in Cody, though, Marsh said, where his work is featured in the Western Hands Design Exhibition.
For Marsh, being featured in Oklahoma City this week just means one thing.“Myself and others in the TCAA, we’re continuing to make the highest quality pieces one can find,” Marsh said.
By Ryan Fitzmaurice