written by Michelle DeVona | photography by Talia Jean Galvin
Rod Retherford is no dilettante when it comes to leatherwork. He’s been building saddles for more than twenty years. His shop, Rod Retherford Saddlery and Cowboy Art, is in Pendleton, the Eastern Oregon city famous for its annual Round-Up.
Before his saddlery career, Retherford took up rodeo riding and then football, the latter earning him a full scholarship to Washington State University. During his high school and college years, Retherford persevered through several hardships, including the loss of his brother in a rodeo accident. His story inspired author John A. Kuri to write a novel simply titled Rod.
In 1995, Retherford asked Hermiston saddlemaker Richard Boyer to teach him the craft. “He’s retired now, but he was probably the best saddlemaker in the Northwest, ” Retherford said. At his Pendleton shop, Retherford makes and designs custom saddles and Western riding gear. Retherford has also made a name for himself in the cowboy art world, where he covers animal skulls with intricate leather designs. His first two pieces were purchased by Phil and Penny Knight. “The art is my idea, and I’m currently the only artist doing what I do,” he said.