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MEEKER I Bob Klenda’s most recent award-winning piece was a beautiful leather heart that earned “Best of Show.” The piece is symbolic of the volunteerism he and Mike Brennan give to the local 4-H club and other community members.
Klenda grew up on a Kansas farm where he learned the significance of hard work. The workhorse’s harness, his belt and shoes were really the only leather he was familiar with until his brother sent him a wallet he had made in the Army Craft Shop. Klenda knew then that when he was drafted he also wanted to work with leather in the craft shop.
By the time he was discharged, he had made several belts, wallets, purses and even started a saddle under the tutelage of Kermit Lyons.
That first saddle was definitely a challenge. In 1961, Klenda began work for the Newton Brothers Saddle Shop in Vernal, Utah. Duane Sodaquist owned the shop and agreed to hire Bob for $5 per day. A room to rent was $2 per night, with food being about $1 per meal, Bob said, “I could sort of break even at that rate.” In 1962 he moved to Fruita and went into the custom saddle business. He had gotten married and started a family and although it was tough at times, “I made it,” he said.
As the next few years passed, he went into ranching and pool riding but still made saddles in the winter. In 1969 he moved his family and business to Prescott, Ariz. The location was very conducive to his art and exposed him to the Porter Saddlery Influence. Jim Bramlett, a prominent western artist, ordered a custom-made fullly-carved saddle from Klenda. The night after he finished it, it was stolen from his shop. He told Bramlett what had happened and proceeded to make another saddle.
Klenda was fortunate enough to gain acquaintances like Helen Milton, Ray Renfro and George Phipen, very prominent western artists. Arizona was good to him but Colorado pulled him back. In 1977 he returned, making more saddles than ever. His kids were getting older and his daughter took an interest in leatherwork as well. Bob began helping with 4-H and the amazing work that has come from the clubs continues to awe people. When his daughter wanted to make a saddle, he helped her and it was the beginning of several saddles to come.
When Klenda moved to Meeker he began working with the leather craft club and was awarded the Leader of the Year Award in 2007. He has had kids in his club win grand champion awards at the state fair. The projects being completed are remarkable.
He also works with the Kay Orton’s Leather Craft Workshop each February in Grand Junction. In 2009 he participated in the World Leather Debut. he showed a saddle in the “basket and geometric stamped” category, winning the category and placing third with an album. At the Sheridan Leather Trade Show he has taught carving classes for multiple years. He is currently the Colorado Saddle Makers Association (CSMA) president and is very involved in the seminars and other endeavors of the association. Since 1992 he has taught many seminars and has been influential in increased attendance at the events, from six to 10 early on to more then 40 now. He has shown his work in The Trappings of the West Show in Flagstaff, then moved to Sedona, the Western Folk Life Center, the Elko Poetry Gathering, and the Art of the Saddle Maker show at the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame. In 2005 he made a saddle to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Denver National Western Stock Show that auctioned for $19,500. He also made a saddle for the Marlboro Company’s 50th Anniversary.
Klenda is a recognized Master Saddle Maker. He has won many awards but one he is very proud of is the Howard Munsell Award given to by the CSMA to a member who has shown exemplary dedication to the mission of the CSMA. His saddles have been featured on the cover of Colorado magazine and featured in many newspapers. He and fellow saddle maker and 4-H leader Mike Brennan were selected to show in the Art of the Saddle Maker Show in Colorado Springs in 2006. Bob also writes for the Leather Crafters and Saddlers Journal. The list of accomplishments goes on and on and the praise from the people he has taught is overwhelming.
When asked about his diligent service with the local 4-H club, Klenda could not say enough about the work of Mike Brennan. It is an understatement to say that Meeker’s club is very fortunate to have the very best in leather craft as their leaders. Brennan is currently the CSMA’s vice-president and gives generously of his time for the youth of our community. It is safe to say the art and tradition of outstanding leatherwork will remain strong in our area because of these two men who are willing to go above and beyond to preserve and teach a craft they are passionate about.