Converting Art to Boots

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Converting Art to Boots

Henry Camargo in his shop working over leathers.
Henry Camargo in his shop working over leathers.
Camargo boots often feature art work.
Camargo boots often feature art work.

Henry Camargo dispenses with any high-tech gadgetry when it comes to making boots.

After five decades of stitching, sewing, hammering and stretching leathers to make boots for celebrities and common folk alike, Camargo said he’ll stick to the time-tested basics of the craft.

“I’m old school,” Camargo said at his Mercedes shop Camargo’s Western Boots on Business 83. “I do everything by hand.”

By his side is his brother, Santos, who on a recent afternoon was in the Camargo’s Western Boots back shop, smoothing over a heel on a boot under construction. The shop is organized clutter. Camargo reaches for components with but a glance, already knowing the location of items after over three decades of operation.

Camargo got his start as a teenager working under the tutelage of zapateros trained by Zeferino Rios, the legendary bootmaker who came to Mercedes in the 1930s. Rios subsequently established the city’s reputation for quality boots.

“They were the masters,” Camargo said of the old bootmakers. “They showed me how to convert art to boots.”

Henry Camargo smooths over the heel of a boot.
Henry Camargo smooths over the heel of a boot.

Camargo certainly considers himself as much an artist as a bootmaker. His boots incorporate all sorts and types of art work Camargo has drawn up, from the Dallas Cowboys to the Texas A&M Aggies. Other designs range from eagles and the stars and stripes to the logos of beers.

“They tell me how they want it and I build it,” he said.

His customers over the years have included country singer George Strait and football legend Tony Dorsett. Customers from around the state and nation are still ordering handmade boots from the venerable boot shop.

“Good boots have brought a lot of people to Mercedes,” Camargo said. “I feel like we’ve done our part in the way we make boots and the work we put into them.”

Ricardo D. Cavazos is a journalist and business executive who has over 30 years of experience as a reporter, editor and publisher and is currently managing allied health schools in the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo. Working for Freedom Communications, Cavazos served as editor of The Monitor for eight years and was publisher of The Brownsville Herald for 14 years. He also served as publisher of the Valley Morning Star for one year and launched two Spanish-language publications - El Nuevo Heraldo and El Extra. He is an Edinburg native currrently living in Harlingen.

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