Sunday, August 23, 2015
Charlie Dunn - Boot Maker
Charles Russell "Charlie" Dunn (1898-1993) was an American bootmaker of handmade Western, or cowboy, boots for more than 80 years. Dubbed the "Michelangelo of cowboy boots," he first gained widespread notice in the wake of Jerry Jeff Walker's song "Charlie Dunn" (1972). By the time he retired in 1988 from Texas Traditions, his shop in Austin, he routinely charged up to $3000 for a pair of boots, had a waiting list of hundreds of interested buyers willing to wait three years for delivery, and had made boots for a long list of celebrities, including Arnold Palmer, Mary Kay Place, Gene Autry, Slim Pickens, Don F Brooks, Harry Belafonte, Ernest Tubb, Peter Fonda, and Carole King.
Known for his colorful language and broad sense of humor, Charlie in his customary black beret and cobbler's apron measured out at 5'4" and 135 pounds of pure imp. Folks may have come to him wanting his boots but they stayed because they wanted his affection. All who knew him well fell under his spell.
When Charlie died at 95 from complications arising from a stroke, he had passed along his bootmaking mastery to Lee Miller, his heir-designate, thus assuring the survival of exceptional bootmaking in the traditional, handmade manner. As with four generations of Dunns before him, Charlie had persevered in and prolonged the production of custom boots, despite the general trend toward bootmaking in factories.
One of a handful of survivors of an endangered species—the half artisan, half artist maker of once-common items—Charlie managed, in passing his skills to a new generation, to make sure that the world continued to enjoy prized bootmaking.