A dedication, from family to fixing engines, to maintain focus on the simple things.
Like any good philosopher, Ashton Whitley is passionate about getting the details right. He’s dedicated to excellence, the search for wisdom, and simple enlightenment free from the constraints of avoidable complexities. Unlike most philosophers, however, Ashton’s subject of choice happens to be vintage motorcycles. At first, a man of few words, Ashton’s stoicism quickly fades as he begins to talk about his passion for restoring old, broken and forgotten motorbikes. He is a master in the art of simplifying the unnecessarily intricate distractions of work and life.
“If you start with the smallest things, you won’t be chasing your tail the whole time,” says Ashton, owner of Third Shift Motorcycles. “As complex as a motorcycle’s engine is, it’s simple once you break it all down.”
Ashton sits on a small stool in the garage he built in the backyard of his Arlington home, dark stains from hours working with greasy motorcycle parts painted over his crossed hands. The smell of gasoline and cold, hard metal permeates this space, but you’ll have a hard time finding anything out of place here. Tools, spare motorcycle parts, and anything else Ashton may need to rebuild or restore a bike are all meticulously organized and stored around the walls of the garage. A refrigerator stocked with water bottles and beers sits in the corner – ready for the weekly night hangouts that happen at Ashton’s garage.
With it’s worn tools and the worn hands of those who inhabit it, this garage is a meditative space. It’s where late-night hours of repetitive motions meet the spontaneity often necessary for new bike rebuilds. It’s where community comes together to problem-solve, discuss and debate, and subsequently, where solitary silence brings forth the fruits of such conversations. Despite all of these uses, Ashton always approaches rebuilds in the same way. He begins each by looking at the smallest details and working his way to larger issues.
“Most people who bring me their motorcycles tell me, ‘My bike is not running well, can you tune and sync the carbs?’ I ask if they have checked compression, point gaps, timing, battery, spark plugs, etc. and typically the answer is no,” says Ashton. “So when I get a bike in the shop for the first time, I do all of these checks for free and I do it first to eliminate any problems.”
The world of electronics, machines and elbow grease are nothing new for Ashton. When he was just 6 or 7, Ashton figured out how to rewire his small, electric car to make it go faster, and later, he began helping his dad work on cars for family members and neighbors. He’s been doing the same ever since – focusing on motorcycles for the latter portion of his life.
“Motorcycles are my passion, not because of what they can do as machines, but because of the lessons they can teach you if you are willing to learn,” he says.
Self-described as “inventive” rather than “creative,” Ashton says his expertise comes into play when working to make a customer’s creative vision for their bike a reality. He is meticulous – and excellent – at figuring out how to achieve whatever a bike owner is dreaming about or returning bikes to their original condition. Outside of the garage, Ashton’s driveway is evidence of the work being done inside. He has well over ten bikes of all sorts parked there, waiting to be refurbished.
“It’s not about taking a thing a part, it’s about making a thing work like it should - making it work like it did when it came off the showroom floor.”
Restoring motorbikes has taught Ashton immense amounts of patience. Although he says that’s not a value he grew up with, it’s hard to imagine this calm and collected father of two ever having a temper. While he still gets frustrated on long nights out in the shop, the necessity of having to remain level-headed enough to problem solve and complete a project has deeply impacted Ashton. Starting with patience and persistence in the details not only saves him time in the end, but it’s also now integral to who Ashton is as a father, husband and friend.
“Working on motorcycles has taught me more patience than I thought I could ever have in life, and it’s transcended from motorcycles to family to raising children to friends and how I deal with life in general. It’s made my life better."
While Ashton continues to grow in patience because of his work, you could say his understanding of the little things in his craft – as well as in his life – are the very reason 3rd Shift Motorcycles exists today. For Ashton, simplifying life to keep his family at the forefront comes just as naturally to him as replacing spark plugs and cotter pins.
When his wife, Meredith was pregnant with their second daughter, June, the Whitley’s began discussing the possibility of Ashton quitting his nine to five job to stay at home with the baby. They talked about it throughout the entire nine months of Meredith’s pregnancy – considering the financial risks as well as the adjustments it would bring to their daily schedule. It wouldn’t be a decision to make hastily. Ashton would be giving up a salary the family hard relied on for fives years without any certainty his new business would succeed.
Finally, almost up to the day Meredith was due, the family decided that even if Ashton made a minimal amount through motorcycle repairs, the risk was worth taking.
“Financially we were fine, but if I gave up a full time job, it was going to hurt, there’s no doubt about it,” says Ashton. “The pro was I was going to be able to be around my child so much of the day…we just couldn’t figure out a way not to do it - it was going to happen.”
Transitioning to a stay-at-home dad while simultaneously starting a business came with a lot of trial and error. During the day, Ashton was now in charge of the well-being of his infant daughter, a responsibility that was at first overwhelming and tiring.
“That was more frightening than giving up my job or anything I can think of. It was all on me until my wife got home,” he says.
Ashton cared for June until Meredith was off work and then after dinner, he would go straight to the garage to work on bikes – most nights working until two or three in the morning before he woke up early again to help older daughter, Mae, get ready for school. Over and over, he would repeat the whole day until he eventually crashed and had to take a couple of days off.
“For the first year and a half, almost two years, I didn’t sleep,” says Ashton. “It was just grinding away every night - I just had to keep pushing."
Despite the sleepless nights and initial risks, after almost three years, he feels fortunate to do work he enjoys and still have ample amount of time with his family. Meredith now often works from home as well, which allows the four Whitley’s even more time together. And as Ashton’s business grows, he remains busy and continues to find challenges in each of his projects.
"The business was never designed to be successful like it’s become successful. To be able to do this everyday has been crazy amazing.”
The bond Ashton has with his daughters and wife is apparent. The Whitley home is warm and inviting – each room is painted in a bright color and decorated in Mae and June’s art. As Mae returns home from school (she fittingly rides a bicycle to and from the elementary just around the corner), she hugs her dad and jokes with him about the day. Ashton lights up and his face softens as he jokes back with his daughter. A confident and joyful 8-year-old, Mae has a special friendship with her dad, and although June is only two, the same type of relationship is beginning to develop for her. There’s not a shred of pretense in the Whitley’s house – June enjoys cartoons in the living room while Meredith prepares snacks and Mae argues with her mom about finishing homework. It’s refreshing and welcoming to witness a family that feels comfortable about being themselves amidst visitors.
Just as Ashton starts with the smallest problems when he works on a bike, he orients his life around giving priority to the details that matter. He understands that it’s the tiny, forgotten things that can either hinder you in life or bring you the greatest joy.
“We live each day for what it is and make sure that we’re always enjoying ourselves and that our kids are being raised to be as happy as they can be.”
Ashton watches on as Mae and June giggle while they bounce up and down on the trampoline outside and a small but unavoidable smile spreads across his face. It’s clear this philosopher craftsman has all he needs in the world. Through his work and through his family, he leaves the world with this piece of wisdom: focus on what’s most important, no matter how small it may be, and the delights of those things will slowly overcome everything else.
Discovering Truth and Beauty Beyond Words
“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent."
― Victor Hugo
The silhouette of a figure can be seen perched at attention before the keys of a sleek black piano, unmoving. Before a sound is heard, she nods her head reassuringly, then summons a series of notes—robust yet slightly mournful-- from beneath poised fingertips. Her dangling earrings dance in time as she urges the music forward, the reverberations rising emphatically off the walls of the old house in a lone, swelling anthem. Below, the golden foot peddles move up and down with a familiar ease under feet belonging to Margaret Barrett, one of Dallas’ only female composers and a leading advocate for the city’s burgeoning music scene. Effervescent in personality and style, the unpretentious nose-ring-wearing artist is an unlikely character to cast in a long line of white-wigged musical prodigies. Even she admits candidly that by all logic and appearances, she shouldn’t be where she is today—creating music that has defined art, performance, film, and the like for audiences nationwide. A self-described “unwilling” casualty of her musical calling, Margaret’s journey as an artist has always been about moving out of isolation and into community, naming the unnamed, and embracing the abstract nature of her craft to unearth something familiar, something called “home”.
Situated on a residential street lined with mature trees, the Barrett’s house serves as a postage stamp of nostalgia in a culturally vibrant East Dallas neighborhood teetering on the cusp of resurrected prominence. The exterior is adorned in harbor blue with white trim, a joyfully simple but eclectic nod to a Scandinavian home by the sea. Three concrete steps lead up to the extended arms of a wide and spacious front porch strung with yellow lights and arrangement of barn-red sitting furniture.
The charming prairie house is cleverly named “Stravinsky, “after the famous Russian composer whose orchestral masterpiece, “The Rite of Spring,” was conceived in 1912, the same year the property was built.
Meanwhile, Zelda, the Barrett’s adolescent Boston terrier, basks in the arrival of our strange company, leaping from person to person with unbridled enthusiasm, (nearly to the point of anxiety) her big beautiful eyes flickering with, as Margaret describes, “ a bad case of ‘FOMO’,” the perpetual “fear of missing out” on something new or exciting.
Margaret is, by nature, the perfect extension of Stravinsky’s openness and warmth. She is generous with her laughter, her gestures, and her poignant expressions of fascination, surprise, and intrigue--even at this early hour of the morning. She’s one of those people with the rare ability to gently usher the frivolities of small talk into the arms of an honest conversation with a natural and seamless grace.
Even as she flies around the kitchen preparing tea and coffee, she uses her whole body to talk. The wide, sweeping motions of her arms dwarf her slender frame, which, at a close second glance, is budding ever so slightly with evidence of her first child, due to arrive in September.
But for the twenty-something composer, there was a time when finding common ground—both in the language of music and relationships--wasn’t nearly as effortless.
During her teenage years, Margaret’s family relocated to Germany in the middle of a debilitating family crisis.
“Moving overseas and living around no English speakers while learning a new language and culture isolated our family into itself,” she remembers. “The problems my parents were having were no longer a backdrop, but the forefront of our daily lives.”
During this time, she attended German school, yet was unable to speak a word to her peers. Without an outlet to communicate her grief and frustration surrounding the turmoil of her family life, Margaret drew into herself, a place that soon became increasingly claustrophobic and lonely.
It was not until she began taking piano lessons that the deafening silence broke. Unlike her fellow classmates, Margaret wasn’t merely interested in memorizing scales and chords; she was regularly writing and playing her own music . . . a providential discovery that would soon became her liberation.
“It is so awesome that something as simple as a series of organized vibrations can move and shift something inside of humans and change the way we feel, think, and interact with our world—how is that possible?”
Even though the language of music had opened up a new portal of possibilities, Margaret’s movement into the composing world was full of doubt and apprehension.
“I was just looking for a good excuse to give it all up,” she recalls. “Up until [college], my musical language was pretty basic—I could only judge myself with how catchy a piece sounded.”
One day, her composition instructor, Dr. Scott McAllister—who Margaret credits as hugely essential in the development of her musical career—gave her some contemporary composers to listen to. The invitation was a strong but gentle challenge to develop her compositional palate beyond the conventional norms.
“I put on a CD by a composer named Steve Reich. I opened the score, pressed play on the track, and sat stunned for the entire 12 minutes of the piece. I remember thinking, 'Where have these sounds been all my life? All my life I’ve been living without music like this. It feels like I’ve come home. This is home.'”
This sense of “home”—of closeness, being known, understood, and embraced—has since been Margaret’s enduring inspiration and pursuit behind each of her musical endeavors.
When I create a piece of music, I want someone in the audience to be listening and for something inside them to nod, to say, ‘Yes. This piece confirms something. This piece of music is pointing me to something I have always known and felt and desired and yet haven’t named.’
This cathartic final effect doesn’t come without toil and struggle. Upon further inspection, the very nature of Margaret’s craft itself bears no resemblance to the safety and comfort of home. It’s isolating, chaotic, abstract, depressing, and terribly exhausting.
“Unlike a visual artist, who can paint a blue swatch and that blue swatch stays there for them to observe in its actual form and tweak it to be a different form, my “swatches” are all imagined,” she explains.
“Everything I do in the creative stage is so abstract. This is what tortures and depresses me sometimes about my craft, but yet, I still do it! I don’t know why, but I haven’t stopped yet . . . I’ll let that be sign enough.”
This ability to reach out into the unknown, into the gray space of relationships and life--is where we find the humble brilliance of Margaret Barrett the artist.
She possesses the uncanny resilience required to wade through currents of sounds to highlight and unify individual notes, much like she does with the people around her. Honest concerning her struggles, Margaret remains a visionary of the unseen, an unlikely disciple of artistic grace, a self-proclaimed imperfect translator of the mysterious and sometimes cryptic music that surrounds her.
I’m often flying blind at the beginning, feeling like I’m starting from scratch, like I’m in Kindergarten again. I’m unsure. I know nothing of what I’m doing. I’m an imposter making this up as I go along. I have to make the choice: Will I quit? Or, will I take the leap of faith and create?
After a day spent talking, laughing, and entertaining a now satisfied but exhausted Zelda, we finally ask Margaret what she hopes to do with her music.
She pauses uncharacteristically for a moment before responding, but this is not because she’s struggling to articulate a palatable answer. After all, if there’s anything we’ve learned about Margaret, it is that after searching for the “why” for so long, she can never truly separate it from her life or her work. Her silence isn’t hesitation, it is something more of a rumination, a silent prayer before a spoken one:
I want my music to remind people to keep searching, to remind them of the beauty of eternity, of love, of a kind and pursuing God that is real . . . to keep seeking. I want people to know that what they crave of beauty and truth exists and not to give up on that. I think art--and particularly music--has the power to do this in a way that nothing else can.
That night we leave Stravinsky understanding something that perhaps we’ve always sensed but never known before: That good music—full of truth and beauty-- is the language of home, the very essence of belonging that lures us through those open and familiar doors time and time again. Perhaps it is because music is the only art form capable of venturing beyond the boundaries of words and images to translate the endless refrains of the human soul. It is the sacred threshold we cross to find that we are known, we are seen, and even in the midst of life’s bleak and silent spaces of gray, we are never truly alone.
Kyle Steed’s Seamless Approach to Work, Faith, and Family
The name Kyle Steed is about as well known in the Dallas creative community as a bottle of Shiner Bock is to the average Texan. His signature doodles are stamped with love all over our city, serving as unconventional invitations to be a little bit more thoughtful, a little less busy, and a lot more purposeful in the way we approach life. (We won’t even get into the popularity of his Instagram feed . . . he would honestly thank us for it.) Miraculously, our tall, fedora-wearing friend has been able to overcome the constant allure of self-promotion, holding his gaze steady behind the rounded frames of his tortoise colored spectacles. For Kyle, the creative life is more about discovery than pursuit, less about inspiration and more about plain, hard work, more about people and less about stuff. It would be easy for us to tell you the story of what Kyle Steed has accomplished--as an illustrator, as an iPhone photographer, as a master of branding and vision--but instead, we want to tell you who he is, the principles he lives by . . . the mantra behind a man who has pioneered our generation’s quintessential idea of “the doodle.”
“Do you ever have a feeling like you just know that there’s something you’re supposed to do?" he asks, glancing up at all of us with a knowing grin.
“I remember as a kid drawing stuff I saw in my pantry. Ketchup bottles, salt and pepper shakers, stuff like that,” he remembers, chuckling. “Even then I always knew that I was a little different.”
Fresh cup of hand-poured coffee in one hand and a notebook in the other, Kyle settles into a cozy tweed sitting-chair that faces the large front window in his living room, a welcoming portal to the Steed’s nook of a quiet and charming Oak Cliff neighborhood.
The pale morning light gently illuminates the rising steam from his brew, the ascending trails of vapor like the vague memory of a fire being coaxed into existence. He takes a sip and turns to a new page as two large Labradors—Samson and Ben—settle into their floor cushions, content for now to doze underneath the warm beams.
After a few long sips, he replaces his mug with a pen and begins to draw. Perhaps because of his stature, but most likely because of his characteristic attention to detail, Kyle leans over his work like a child engrossed in a book, never taking his eyes off the smooth lines of black ink, mouth slightly pursed under a thick beard of salt and pepper.
In more ways than one, Kyle’s work is characterized by these quiet, ordinary moments where contemplation meets the ruddy, familiar face of discipline. The subtleties of every pen flicker are landmarks down a well-worn path that the 30-something Alabama native has traveled down many times over a lifetime of doodling.
Choice brew in hand, each of us join Kyle in the living room. We talk about busyness, work, inspiration, faith, and trying to find that illusive balance in a world where work heroism and technology prevail over face-to-face interactions.
In many ways, Kyle has gone before us, carefully navigating through experiences and time, steps and missteps, with a wide net dragging behind him. This, we believe, is his greatest gift to the artistic community . . . his remarkable willingness to say, “I’ve been there, too, and this is what I’ve come to know. Let me share it with you.”
“What do you think your art says about you?" we ask, hoping to hear an admission of genius and half-expecting to uncover a glimpse of ego hidden somewhere under his 164K Instagram followers.
It’s so funny, what’s happening in my life always finds a way of showing up in my work. I can totally connect those dots looking back at my older work and knowing what was going on outside of just that drawing. I like that about art: You can always see through it, like some sort of window into someone’s real life.
But I think we also have to be careful about making our work our entire identity. I learned a couple years ago that what I do does not define me. My work is more of a response. I work because God said it’s good for us to work, and it is. When we do good work, it’s like an act of worship that glorifies Him.
We are always amazed by Kyle’s purposeful lack of self-awareness. He ignores any opportunity to talk about himself in an elevated manner, and regularly forgoes the casual humble-brag to cut straight to the heart of the issue.
Our questions naturally turned to family, as Kyle’s wife Amanda excuses herself to peek in on one-year-old Savannah, who is supposed to be taking a nap, but has been unknowingly entertaining us in the adjacent room with rambunctious toddler noises.
“So, now that you’re a dad, what do you want to teach Savy?”
Man, there are so many things. I want her to know that she doesn’t have to be afraid. That she can be confident to try new things. But most importantly, that God loves her. I feel like the crux of everything we do--and even everything we don’t do--comes back to if we believe that God can truly love us perfectly wherever we are.
“How has it been balancing your time between work and family?”
As men, family should be our first and most important ministry. That perspective puts everything in order for me. It would be so easy to never turn off the work—both physically and mentally. But when the scriptures say to 'Commit your work to the Lord,' it’s referring to every part of what goes into our work: our hearts our minds and our attitudes. I know that if I’m constantly distracted, I can never be present for my wife and daughter.
Working hard is good, but we also need to rest in the fact that God has us. You can trust him. You can take him at his word. As the Radiohead song says, ‘You don’t have to kill yourself for recognition.’
It’s no mystery by now that faith isn’t merely another component of the life of Kyle Steed, it is the very pulse--a single, brightly colored thread in a seamless garment.
What’s interesting though, is the way he talks about it. He feels no need to defend his beliefs or to prescribe them. He is neither domineering nor timid, but instead, quietly delighted, like someone who has discovered something precious that was hidden underground. It makes you want to lean in. It makes you want to discover, too.
At this point, the dogs begin to stir, stretching their long legs past the warmth of their beds and onto the cool hardwood floors. The sun, now directly overhead, reminds us that it’s time to go.
“Ok, one last question, Kyle. What is success to you?”
The pause is long as he leans forward to deliberate. He never wastes a word.
Success is a weird thing because it’s measured in so many different ways. I mean yeah, it would be super awesome to be so successful financially that money never mattered. But money is just so fleeting. I mean, if you had all you could ever ask for, you would still want more, right? So you can’t measure success by that. The real meat of our lives is our family, our friends, the people that we allow to come into our lives. Enriching and strengthening those relationships is what matters most.
So, I would feel pretty successful if in fifty years, Amanda and I can look at each other in the same way we did when we first got married. To still have that deep affection for one another and to have grown more and more in love. That our daughter and other future children would love us and know that we love them. I think that would make me feel pretty successful in life.
And with those parting words, we sat silent and still for a moment, grateful to have spent a weekday morning with a friend simply sharing life together.
We wish we could tell you everything we talked about with Kyle, from “the good old days of MySpace” down to his meticulous ritual prior to every iPhone shot. The good news is, we can almost guarantee that the most important answers will emerge through the prophetic nature of Kyle’s creations, whether on the walls of Dallas’ industrial neighborhoods, the digital doodles shared by thousands, or most accurately, in the lives of a handful of people fortunate enough to know the wisdom and warmth of his friendship.
For us, this is as far as you need to look to get a glimpse of the man behind the doodles . . . just ask the people whose lives are infinitely richer because of him. They’ll point you to conversations and moments of kindness, to time invested, and life lived together.
And we can promise you this: his résumé will never come up.
Where Craftsmanship and Legacy Meet
He’s tall, sturdy-looking, thoroughly tattooed, and all at once, surprisingly unimposing. Clint Wilkinson, the visionary maker behind Bell and Oak leather goods, could easily fool you with his casual demeanor and soft-spoken Texas drawl. But his roots in leather-craft run deep, as does his passion for the emerging renaissance of the American-made movement. Ingrained in every notch of the signature hand-stamped Bell and Oak crest is a robust family legacy, six generations deep of Dentonites—both cowboys and artisans fueled by the indomitable spirit of the American pioneer.
Bell and Oak Leather Goods Workshop, Weldon’s Saddle Shop and Western Wear, Denton, TX
The moment you cross the threshold onto the smooth cement floor of Weldon’s Saddle shop, the rich smell of leather, stout and nutty, greets you with an honest embrace.
It’s a feeling reminiscent of stepping inside an old country store, where tradition says as much about where you’ve come from as it does about where you’re going.
The afternoon light beams through the storefront windows, landing on rows of impressive hand-tooled saddles in hazy yellow droplets, perhaps decades old, not unlike the seasoned workshop where they dance.
Weldon's Saddle shop and Western Wear is a sprawling corner storefront built in the 1920's and later acquired by Clint's grandfather, Weldon Burgoon, in 1957.
It stands today as an iconic Denton landmark modestly situated on the corner of Bell Avenue and Oak Street.
The wood paneled walls don pictures of cowboys and rodeo awards, western memorabilia, with several glass display cases lined against it containing respectable cowboy wares: spurs, horseshoes, and stirrups.
Aisles of Wrangler jeans, flannel shirts, boots, and hats are also sprinkled with nostalgic items—a paperback copy of Cormac McCarthy's, No Country for Old Men stands beside a weathered photograph of a stoic Indian Osage-- an impressive alter to the rodeo gods of old.
Every item displayed emanates the time-honored Texas tradition of family, hard work, and quality craftsmanship-- from rows of ornate western saddles, to the sepia photographs illuminated by the dusty grins of cowboys and ranch hands--the legacy of a life characterized by hard work that was anything but simplistic, but was simple nonetheless.
All the while, country music seeps lazily through the stereo—droning Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, and George Strait. This is the soundtrack of a life where what’s concrete matters more than the unattainable.
Situated towards the rear of the store is the hallowed workshop area where Clint crafts leather goods for his fledgling leather goods brand, Bell and Oak. I find him hunched over the counter, arms folded and relaxed as he talks to a customer who needs the strap on her leather bag repaired.
“I don’t actually do this kind of repair work Ma’am, but I’d be happy to refer you to a buddy of mine who does this kind of thing all the time. He does really good work.”
Our host is a seasoned expert in a number of fields —leather craft, motocross, marketing, media, design--yet he remains humble, unassuming, and refreshingly good-humored.
He speaks slowly and deliberately, unhurried and unencumbered by the demands of our film crew’s constantly chirping cell phones.
As we speak, he sits perched on a rolling stool situated between two time-worn wooden tables. A dark colored ball cap is pushed back on his head, while his hands firmly grasp the edges of a striking piece of legendary Horween leather, directly sourced from trusted U.S. tanneries. His eyes are calm, but intent at the task at hand.
A leather lanyard swings from his custom Bell and Oak belt, English Bridle leather stained Saddle Tan, if I'm not mistaken.
Cut, burnished, dyed, and waxed by hand.
Every morning, Clint rises to a 5:30 wake-up call and heads to the gym. Then it’s home, where his wife and children—a boy, age six, and a girl, age 2—are just beginning their day.
“I sit at the breakfast table with them and eat oatmeal with raspberries, almonds, and honey, every day,” Clint says, a broad smile breaking through his evenly kept 5-o’clock shadow.
“When I get to the shop, I sweep the floor, blow off the parking lot, and sit down to draw something. I try to draw something every day to keep my skills sharp. It’s like a warm up before the day begins.”
He pauses again to roll up the sleeves of his denim shirt, revealing the souvenirs of his past--tattooed sleeves from his legendary days as a graphic designer and budding entrepreneur in the motocross industry. (You can also see the evidence of this on his beautifully designed website)
From the age of 11, after his parents gifted him with his very own dirt bike, Clint’s attention drifted from his family’s heirloom business to the fast and furious world of motocross.
“I think growing up, people thought I was just a punk on a dirt bike who didn’t care. And the thing is, they were probably right.”
Even after giving up the sport in his early twenties, the pull of the industry led him to take his eye for graphic design to help launch a multi-media start-up with some buddies—the first of its kind in the motocross world.
Ten years into the rat race, despite a great deal of success, Clint was running on empty. The thought of continuing the never-ending sprint to success stirred the Dentonite to the tipping point of personal crisis.
“I finally decided that I had to take a break. So I took a month off and just worked on leather here in the back of my grandfather’s shop.”
The break turned out to be the impetus, the dream that sparked the idea of Bell and Oak. It was also the beginning of a quest—or rather a return—to a time where life was simple, straight forward, genuinely authentic.
“For me, when you stay up so late every night, and you wake up early, you just aren’t yourself. It took me about a year before I started acting like me again.”
“Really? You seem really laid back.”
“Before, I was more hurried, acting exactly like the computer I used to stare at for hours every day. I couldn’t sit here and have a conversation with you. I couldn’t find the words to say because I wasn’t present in the moment.”
Pausing thoughtfully to consider my questions, Clint watches his hands move rhythmically across the leather.
One of the hardest things to do in leatherworking is not to finish before you’re through. My grandfather taught me that. There are a lot of people who try to cut corners, whether it’s an edge that needs work or a simple touch up on a wallet that people leave because they don’t want to take the extra time. To me, if you don’t finish before you’re through, that makes a perfect product.
“What’s different now that you’ve left the graphic design industry entirely?”
"I listen a lot more. I don’t think you start to take note of those things until you’re older. It took having a family to really appreciate a family. It finally started soaking in: At the end of the day, money isn’t everything. It may sound cliché, but family is what it is . . . family really is everything."
Even though Bell and Oak has only been out of the gate since April, 2014, Clint’s simple designs and quality leather goods have inspired a national following.
He has expanded his product line from the “Essentials”—belts and wallets—to include a range of incredible items—iPhone and iPad cases, coasters, and even custom dog collars.
In the Fall, Bell and Oak is poised to release a limited edition line of hand-tooled items sure to strike a love-sick chord in the heart of every true cowboy.
Clint plans to incorporate his signature tooling style—the Sheridan—named after its town of origin in Wyoming.
“The packaging is also going to be really unique. I’m working with a bunch of local artists: a local water colorist, Pastrana wood-working studios, and a photographer to really make this line special.”
“That sounds like an awesome opportunity to collaborate with other makers. Do you have any advice for other craftsman in the biz?”
You’re going to have to be in it for the long haul. You’re not going to make a whole lot of money upfront. It’s about the art and the craft of what you’re doing. And you have to care about that more than the money, otherwise you shouldn’t pursue it.
My grandfather is 84 years old and he still comes into work every day, Monday through Saturday. And he does that because he loves it, and because he cares. If you’re willing to make that sacrifice, you’re in it for the right reasons.
“Where do you see yourself in five to ten years and how will you measure your success? How will you know that all of this has been worth it?”
In five to ten years? Hell, I hope to be right here, still in downtown, Denton, Texas. I hope to have a pretty well-known following. I hope that my kids are right here with me learning how to work with leather. I hope that I’m still right here in my granddad’s western shop, making quality leather products.
He pauses again to gather his thoughts, slowly twirling a sliver of scrap leather between his thumb and index finger.
Success to me is raising your kids the right way. Teaching them to work hard. Have fun at what you do. Wake up every day with a reason to really smile.—that’s success. It’s about living a simple life.
A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Dallas' Cosmic Chocolatier
Nestled beneath the steady gaze of Dallas’ iconic Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge is Trinity Groves, the appointed threshing floor for the city’s latest and greatest offerings of aspiring culinary genius. Architecturally stunning at first sight, this aptly named row of storefronts serves as the “Holy Trinity,” of Big D’s burgeoning start-up culture--unilaterally ruled by Innovation the Father, Talent the Son, and Hope the Entrepreneurial Spirit. Here we find the happy stage for Kate Weiser, the twenty-eight-year-old chef-owner whose whimsical world of chocolate has the Metroplex swooning under its spell.
If Art and Science ever fell for one another, I’m relatively certain that the resulting love-child would be a Kate Weiser bonbon.
The moment one sets foot inside the bright and spacious storefront, the intoxicating smell of chocolate is enough to slay you where you stand. The scent emanates from every molecule in the place, like some sort of cosmic magic--deep, bold, and overwhelmingly magnetic.
On this day in particular, it wafts from the open kitchen where Kate and her team are meticulously slathering a marble countertop with the buttery beginnings of blonde bars, in all their golden gooey glory.
To further the dramatic effect, every corner of the space itself is disarmingly beautiful. Immaculate rows of Kate’s hand-painted creations line a large display case by the register, a portal into an art form that borders on extra-terrestrial. Embossed with vibrancy, precision, and her signature paint spatter technique, the confections are like moon rocks transplanted from another galaxy.
The flavor profiles themselves are mounted before each row of bonbons, tiny and succinct invitations for your taste buds to come out and party like its 1999.
Ninja Turtle: Buttery caramel, ground toasted pecans
Yuzu: Dark chocolate with Japanese lime
Cognac: Liquid center with Couvoisier cognac.
Caramelized Pineapple. Buttery Popcorn, Mango Habanero, Lavender Apricot, Red Wine and Berry, Key Lime Pie . . .
In fact, the kitchen is oddly reminiscent of a laboratory, with neat rows of beakers and vials, test tubes, droppers, thermometer wands, gloves, and even a blowtorch. Every movement of artistic freedom is mirrored by one of laser-precision. The layers of every bonbon itself are painstakingly deposited by hand, infusing each with an array of stunning and perfectly balanced flavors. Every bonbon actually takes days to create from start to finish, each its own unique experiment.
Meanwhile, a chocolate wheel rotates methodically in the entryway of the kitchen, tempering its brew relentlessly to maintain the delicate chemical balances firmly dictated by laws of chemistry. Just one degree off and the texture, composition, the taste can change altogether.
“I love that the tiniest change can make the biggest difference,” Kate chimes in.
When you graduate culinary school, you tend to think there is only one way of doing things. One way to make a pie, one way to make a cake, but there are so many different ways. I’ve made every mistake possible and there are a million ways to mess up, so when you get it right, you really feel like you accomplished something that day. I feel like everyone who specializes in chocolate is a little bit crazy.
And this was true, in the very best of ways. At any given moment, the chef-owner voluntarily breaks into laughter, song, or dance that seems to well up from a constant supply of gratitude.
“I grew up as a little wild child, always moving, dancing, creating something, getting dirty . . . I was in a break dancing club in high school, no big deal,” she jests, while striking a pose.
Petite, agile, and blonde, the native Kansan is the quintessential All-American girl whose open and amiable demeanor makes you feel like you’ve just run into a long-lost friend. As she speaks, she whirls about the kitchen, wearing her husband's neon blue indoor soccer shoes (clearly several sizes too big).
"Our dog ate my really expensive chef shoes, so I ‘borrowed’ these from TJ,” she explains, responding to our film crew’s quizzical looks. “They’re so comfortable!”
Undoubtedly the object of many a “friend-crush,” Kate is the kind of person who you sincerely want to cheer on, if not be paired with in a three-legged race. Her aura is magnetic, which makes it obvious why her signature bonbons have become an overnight sensation among Trinity Groves patrons.
Inside her culinary laboratory one will happily discover the playground for a self-proclaimed “mad scientist” who has unleased her inner artist. It’s a slight nod to a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-esque relationship but delightfully more endearing.
I’m very easy going, but in the kitchen, I’m very deliberate and very methodical. Molding my personality to be these two different things at once actually works well with chocolate. I get to bring science and art together.
There’s kind of like this weird balance between those two ideas. You have to follow certain scientific formulas and recipes and everything is very exact. If you’re off even the tiniest amount with whatever you’re working with, your entire recipe can just go out the window. But then there’s the art aspect where you take all those rules and all those formulas, bending them in a way that doesn’t ruin the recipe, but makes it your own. It’s very methodical, it’s very deliberate, but then it’s also like, “Well, fuck it. Just have fun with it.” You have to really be at the top of your game, but then be willing to throw caution to the wind at the same time.
For Kate, the line between freedom and restraint is bridged by chocolate. Traces of the ethereal combination of passion and poise are everywhere: in the test tube displays of luscious pastel macaroons, between the smooth lines of the shop’s smart geometric branding, within the vibrant packaging of each box of delicacies, and, most prominently, in the larger-than-life portrait of the artist herself, face speckled with the same spectrum of color she uses to breathe life into her creations.
The stunning portraiture of the chef owner spans the back wall emphatically as a living hologram of her work itself—art bearing the very image of its maker. This is the marriage of form and content, of art and science, of passion and control, of heart and mind. We find it in Kate's art, and in the unforgettable taste of the love that has given birth to it.
When I ask if there’s much holding her back these days, she shrugs and smiles,
I sometimes get underestimated because of my youth or lack of life experience. I feel like I have to prove myself more. It doesn’t bother me, though. I never focus on the negative—I don’t have time.
And honestly, we don’t either . . . because the chocolate is just that good.