By Lynn Bowman
The fruit of our effort took many years, community financial support, city aid, and a generous family to finally come to fruition.
I need to take you back around nine or ten years ago. I had been the curator of the Museum for only a year or two and was still “learning the ropes.” We had not yet started receiving funds from the City of Buford to aid in our daily operation and acquisition costs, and all expenditures were coming from my limited pocket. I was contacted by the owners of a Bona Allen parade saddle wishing to sell it to our newly discovered entity on the World Wide Web. I was surprised at how much traffic we received on the internet from our first website. Anyway, I do not remember a lot about the conservation except they had one of the nicest locally-made saddles I had heard of; and they wanted MANY thousands of dollars for it. Realizing I did not have that kind of money and thinking that I may have the opportunity to buy other saddles like this every year – hopefully for a lot less, I decided to pass. I am certain that I concluded our conversation with something I always say when I can’t afford an item for the collection: “If there is ever a change in circumstances, fluctuation in price, or a reason to donate the item to the Museum, then please reach out to us again.”
Jump ahead to present. I received a call from a young man who said his family had a saddle that the Museum might be interested in. After talking with him, and seeing the pictures, I knew right away we MUST have this parade saddle for the permanent collection for community enjoyment. We discussed the value as being around $8,500 to $10,000. But because of the lack of similar saddles being sold, there were no comparables to truly pinpoint a value. This particular saddle was made during the 1950’s, during the heyday of Western Saddles here at Bona Allen, and most likely under the direction of Victor Alexander. Entirely hand-carved and adorned with sterling and 14K gold mounts, this show saddle was obviously made for someone with notoriety or for a wealthy horse owner wanting to make a statement each time it was mounted.
After about a month of back and forth between the owner, the city, and me, we agreed on a greatly reduced purchase price. The family felt it important that this piece of history be available to the community from which it came and was willing to work with the Museum as it raised funds. So with the Museum’s available acquisition funds, a generous donation from the Maughons at Bare Bones Steakhouse, contributions from the Buford Lanier Woman’s Club, and the City’s financial support, we were able to acquire this prized piece.
It wasn’t until the saddle was delivered from Mobile, Alabama, inspected, and purchased that the second part of this story came about. As the young man was about to leave with his family, he asked me if I remember talking with his father many years ago about this saddle. My response was “no” at first, but as I dove deep into my memory banks, I did remember just enough to make a connection.
As it turned out, this saddle was the same saddle from ten years ago that I passed on, now offered by the son of the regionally known collector, Darrel Fincher, Sr. The father had turned over many responsibilities to Darrel Jr., including making sure that many of the things he had collected got into the proper hands for future generations. This saddle was acquired by Darrel Sr. many years ago from a widow lady whose husband unfortunately did not share any of the details of the provenance of the saddle prior to his death. Although we do not believe the saddle was originally made for the widow’s late husband, we feel he may have known for whom this special order was commissioned. It is information like this that it oftentimes lost to history forever. Maybe one day we can piece this puzzle together, but for now we can enjoy the saddle in all of its glory.
Here is what I do know now. After twelve years of serving as the curator for the Buford Collection, I definitely do not see a saddle like this every year as I had initially figured when I was new at this position. It is only once in a blue moon that we as a community have an opportunity to acquire certain iconic relics from our past that help remind us of our artistic but industrial roots. I have always heard in the antiques world that the time to buy an antique is when you see it. That certainly holds true for Museum acquisitions as well. I just hope that when the next time comes, I have the wisdom and the financial resources to act for the benefit of Buford.