Kearns and Sons RS Aesthetics

Stevensville artist joins Montana’s Circle of American Masters


knightTo celebrate Montana’s rich heritage and showcase the present-day vitality of the folk arts, the Montana Arts Council will honor 10 new members of Montana’s Circle of American Masters at an induction ceremony in the Old Supreme Court Chambers of the State Capitol in Helena on Friday, at 3 p.m. on April 25, 2014. A reception will follow in the Capitol Rotunda. Stevensville leather artist Howard Knight is among the 10 inductees.

Knight grew up on a northern Idaho ranch where his parents raised and trained Thoroughbred race horses. When he was eight years old, his leather 4-H project was the start of a life-long passion. Leather carving first became an ever-present hobby while he worked as an electrician. However, after a life-changing accident, Howard picked up his swivel knife and for the past 12 years has not put it down.

Knight was mentored by master leather carvers like Chuck Smith and Ray Pohja, considered one of the greatest leather artists of all time. Knight learned the “Sheridan Style” while studying with Jim Jackson of King Saddlery, saddlemaker Clinton Fay, and saddlemaker Don Butler. He has learned design, layout and stitching from experts at the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City and the Autry National Center in Los Angeles.

Knight specializes in filigree work in the classic Western Floral style and has collaborated with a range of artists, including bootmaker Lisa Sorrell, clothing designer Paul Hausvick of Boucher Leather in Santa Fe, silversmith Rob Schaezlein III, bronze sculptor Rip Caswell, jewelry designer Doug Magnus, and Axel’s of Vail, CO. He has created custom boots that have taken over 800 hours of hand tooling, including one pair (at $106,000) that has become known as the most expensive pair of boots made.

Knight spends over 40 hours a week tooling and working leather in his workshop in Stevensville but gladly takes the time to pass on the tradition of leather craft to the next generation of 4-H leatherworkers. In fact, he has taught leatherwork to approximately 25 4-H members over the past six years. He has mentored Ralph Harmon, who now owns Ralph Harmon Custom Leather in Sebastopol, CA. Knight gives demonstrations during the shows he attends (like the Harley-Davidson rally in Milwaukee, WI) and takes time to teach each potential customer about the quality, precision, and skill that go into each of his one-of-a-kind pieces.

Induction into Montana’s Circle of American Masters recognizes Montana’s visual folk artists for the artistic excellence in their work and for their contributions to the State’s visual traditional and folk arts heritage. After learning their art informally, these artists have worked to preserve their art form through sharing and teaching. Through the excellence of their work, these individuals and their work become a reflection of the physical and social landscapes of their culture.

Along with Knight, the other Visual Folk and Traditional artists to be honored at this year’s ceremony are:  Glenn Brackett, Butte, bamboo flyrod maker; Rick Dunkerley, Lincoln, bladesmith; Scott Enloe, Great Falls, canoe and furniture builder; Gordon McMullen, Bozeman, wood turner; Jay Old Mouse, Lame Deer, traditional flutemaker; Birdie Real Bird, Garryowen, beadwork artist; Jim Rempp, Missoula, bowyer; Marilyn Stevens, Trego, basketweaver; Brenda Yirsa, Big Sandy, quilt artist.

In addition to the ceremony, artists designated as MCAM artists can use the MCAM label on their work. They have the opportunity to teach their art through demonstrations and workshops and to share their knowledge and work in a number of ways, including on the MAC website. In addition to acknowledgement through interviews, they will gain exposure in promotional and educational venues; and, as funding permits, their work is photographically recorded.

For inclusion in this program, an individual must be a practicing visual folk artist. Montanans are encouraged to visit the MAC website ( to check MCAM eligibility requirements and download the guidelines and nomination form.

Recommendations and supporting information are gathered year round, and there is no application deadline. When the registration form is completed, it is submitted for review in the respective field of the nominee, with the Montana Arts Council acting on that recommendation.

For more information about the program or for help in the nomination process, contact Folk Arts and Market Development Specialist Cindy Kittredge, at (406) 468-4078,

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