The artisan cowgirl of Modoc County
Valerie Coe's hands that are responsible for some of the finest feet in the business.
In the small town of Alturas you'll find a no harder pair of working hands than Valerie Coe's. You see, it's her hands that are responsible for some of the finest feet in the business.
For generations now, craftsmen have sewn cowboy boots for wranglers, ranchers, cowboys and even a few fashion divas, too. But the fashion frenzy seemed to pass by small studios like Valerie's. In today's world of mass production, Valerie's boots are the exception. The essence of the footwear is quality, achieved only by individual attention to each and every boot she produces.
"It's very much like a puzzle. You have to think about what order you put the leathers down and how they'll inlay and overlay with the other leathers, and then also stitching them together. You want things to just flow when you're stitching them together," Valerie said.
Her first step involves taking a "last" or "fit form" of both her customers' feet, because each foot can have different sizes and nuances. Next she takes a pedigraph or a footprint of the feet and then she takes the measurement of the foot. And from there the real fun begins---picking out the design and colors.
And it's just that attention to detail that keeps Coe in business. But it's also what keeps her producing only a half dozen pairs of boots a year. In addition to a variety of footwear, she also crafts pillows, purses, flasks and even furniture--each with her own one-of-a-kind flair. Growing up riding and showing horses in Southern California, Valerie always had a special love for all things Western. But it wasn't until after college when she moved to Alturas and married into a ranching family that she was finally able to pursue her passion.
"Well I've been horse crazy since I was a little girl--rode horses, showed horses--so a lot of my boots have horses or things related to ranching on them. And that's really where I draw my inspiration from," Valerie said.
Together with her husband, Ned, and their family, they run a successful cattle and calf operation with more than 400 head of cattle in their herd. It's a year-round effort for the couple but it's just that tough, manual work that Valerie does every day that provides the inspiration for the work she does in her studio.
While Valerie's designs are distinctly modern, her craft is rooted in Western history. For centuries, horsemen wore boots with high heels to protect their feet. Today they are as much a fashion statement as they are an essential part to a true cowboy's attire. And because of Valerie's unique craftsmanship that tradition continues for a new generation to enjoy.
"When I first started this, at that point I probably only had three or four pairs of boots. Ned, my husband, called me the Imelda Marcos of the boot world and I said, 'Oh honey…I'm just getting started!'" Valerie said.
For more information about Valerie and her boots, visit www.cowgirlbootmaker.com.