For as long as he can remember, Mike Marcellus has been around horses, saddles and the art of saddlery.
“I grew up in southern Texas,” he recalls. “I was a cowboy for many years, and while cowboying I always was around people who made saddles.” His family has also been a part of the trade as far back as four generations. “My father made saddles, and actually retired only a few years ago. I have always been around saddlery.”
Marcellus has been in the business of saddlery for over 30 years, but he has only been “official” since 1992 “with a license in hand and permits and things … But I’ve been doing this for longer than that.”
His business, Mike’s Custom Saddle Shop, is in the historic Stockyard District of Oklahoma City. Marcellus has clients from all over Oklahoma. People also come from Kansas, Texas and other states to visit because they view Marcellus’s custom pieces as necessary to their riding experiences.
Marcellus’s whole business depends upon the art of paying attention to small details and crafting them into intricate, custom pieces that are as unique as the individual customers themselves. The process is far more complex than going to a store and picking out a saddle.
“When a customer comes in for a custom job, they bring their horse in, then they’re measured, and we measure the horse,” Marcellus says. “Then the labor starts, which can take anywhere from 2-4 weeks.” Customers can easily tell a difference in the fit of a custom saddle. “It’s like buying a dress; you can buy one from the shop, or you can have a designer make you one with your measurements,” Marcellus says. “You’ll be able to tell a difference.”
The various designs in leather vary from order to order. However, the patterns used are standard. Marcellus says that the general stamps are geometric waffle stamps, as well as “rita flowers” and “wild roses.” The patterns are put onto wet leather, then hand-tooled into the leather.
Each saddle gets this custom hand treatment, and the prices reflect that: Marcellus says their average custom range is around $4,000. “You have to keep in mind that the materials are $1,700 on their own,” he says. “It’s definitely enough to make you say, ‘Wowee.’”
“We live and breathe this stuff,” Marcellus says. “My father rodeoed, and I grew up watching Westerns and they had all of the influence in the world.”
Marcellus and his son, Michael, recently qualified to compete in the U.S. Team Roping Championships’ National Finals, Oct. 22-30 in Oklahoma City. “We have cattle, horses, a roping arena; we train. It’s our entire lives.”
Marcellus’s life goes beyond just making saddles; he’s the real deal. Right after hanging up the phone, he has plans to cut and haul hay. He loves what he does. And what does Marcellus enjoy the most about saddle making?
“It’s not just about crafting saddles,” he says fondly. “It’s about making people’s dreams and wishes come true.”