Up on a shelf out of reach in Weldon’s Saddle Shop & Western Wear is a child-sized saddle that longtime store owner Weldon Burgoon made for his grandchildren.
It’s just a few yards away from where one of those grandchildren, Clint Wilkinson, is now carrying on the family tradition.
Wilkinson didn’t use the saddle much, Burgoon says, but now later in life he has taken an interest in the art and creation behind the handmade leather saddle.
Wilkinson started his own leather goods business, Bell & Oak, out of Weldon’s last year after leaving the graphic design field. Now, he is creating the products at a table behind the front counter, taking the rolled-up leather hides and transforming them into belts, wallets and other goods.
“Mentally, to work on leather is just a huge, therapeutic process,” he said. “You’re not worried about anything. You’re just working on the piece in front of you, and when it’s done, it’s done, and if the customer is happy, it makes it that much more satisfying.”
Now Bell & Oak, named for the intersection where Weldon’s is located, is growing after an online store opened this month. Wholesale orders have started coming in from around the world, but Wilkinson said the focus will remain at the saddle shop and in Denton.
Wilkinson worked at the store growing up, but the idea for the business didn’t develop until Wilkinson began working at the shop again a few years ago. At the time, he was managing a business that he and his friends founded vurbmoto.com, the first online publication for motocross that has grown to become the largest in the industry.
He worked remotely as a graphic designer, co-owner and spent too much time staring a computer screen, he said. And then one day, when he set up his laptop inside Weldon’s, he decided he needed a break from work.
“I took a break, and the only thing I did was come up here to work and go home,” Wilkinson said. “And during that time, I started coming back here and working on leather. I’ve been around it my whole life; I’d just never taken it seriously like I did graphic design.”
He started working with the leather and his grandfather, and Burgoon says Wilkinson uses his old tools better than he can anymore.
“He’s got great hands and great ideas, and I didn’t teach him anything about that,” he said. “He worked on leather a little bit about two or three years ago here, and he’s gotten way past me now.”
The more Wilkinson learned to work with the leather, the more he liked it. With the company, he’s been able to use his skills from before — graphic design and coding for the logo and website, brand management for online promotion and social media and networking with people throughout the world — to direct them to the new online store.
But the real work is with the leather. Wilkinson buys some of the best leather in the country, then forms it or tools it for customization. He can customize pieces with letters or designs by hand, and the shapes and styles are each named for streets in Denton.
“All my products’ names are street names in Denton because I just want people to learn more about Denton, whether they are in California or wherever they buy it,” he said. “If they get a Hickory wallet, which is one of my favorites, I just want them to know this is coming from a certain street.”
The business has also helped Weldon’s, too. With construction on Hickory Street and traffic downtown, Bell & Oak has helped bring renewed interest into the store.
“There’s tons of reasons why I started Bell & Oak, but one is because I wanted to get people in here who are interested in what I’m doing for sure, and maybe watch me work or whatever it is, but maybe look at a pearl snap shirt or a pair of boots,” he said.
JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.