Spanish Springs Artist Shares Western Heritage Through Beadwork

Jul 3, 2019

Kathleen Brannon is a beadwork artist living in Spanish Springs who set up shop at the Reno Rodeo's marketplace last week, which was home to about 100 vendors and artists. She talked with KUNR's Holly Hutchings about her craft and her business.

The bustling marketplace is filled with booths selling everything from cowboy hats and boots to homemade fudge. Nestled in one corner is Kathleen Brannon of Desert Sage Bead Art.

She knows many of the passersby and is a friendly fixture here. Her booth is a Western accessories wonderland. A big table is stacked with cuff bracelets and turquoise necklaces hang on a rack, as well as leather belts and horse stoles, accented with glittering, tiny beads.

There aren’t a lot of beaders like Brannon anymore.

“Beadwork is part of Western heritage in the United States," Brannon said. "If you've lived in the West, you've pretty much lived near a reservation or your grandmother would not only crochet, she beaded and men beaded as well. It's kind of universal.”

A lot of time and patience go into making just one bracelet, and over the years, she has made 5,023 of them, to be exact. “There's different styles of beadwork," Brannon said. "I happen to work with a loom and it's more linear work. What you do is it's a weaving, and you just weave it with a certain thread and then you weave the beads in it. I work with about nine or 10 looms at one time. It's a process, so from beginning to end to do one this size [it] would be eight hours.”

Besides selling her custom work here and at other rodeos, she markets in creative ways, like adorning past queens with her chunky bracelets and colorful necklaces. One Queen, Taylor Howell from Sonora, California, stops by to accessorize before hosting an official Reno Rodeo Facebook Live event. Brannon knows the exposure is crucial because this is like the red carpet for rodeo. 

She says this market hasn’t changed much over the years. It remains a big money maker. In order to tap into that income, she’s had to educate herself on the business side.

“Yes, it's a real solid income, but I've been at it for a long time and I have a really following," Brannon said. "It's not easy to make a living off your art, you know? I know prolific artisans, much more talented than I am, and I'm sure you do, too. They can't sell. To be able to create is one thing; to sell what you made is very difficult.”

This year, Brannon was invited by rodeo officials to make nine unique headstalls for the winning horses. When the champions received their buckles, their horses were given a rich leather piece with intricate beading, almost like a crown. Brannon worked almost a year to make each one by hand.

To see more stories from our rodeo series, visit Spurs & Mud: A Century of Rodeo.