I greet Gary Mathis of Gary’s Custom Saddlery in Fullerton, and my hand disappears into his like a car entering a tunnel. His grip is as epic as his handlebar mustache. Still, I watched those same hands move like hummingbirds around the various workbench projects in his garage, where for decades he has handcrafted custom saddles, exotic-leather belts, and the kind of elaborate silver buckles prized by Texas ranchers and country music legends.
His workspace is packed with hand tools—awls, knives, hole punches, pliers, yardsticks—some passed down from his grandfather. The house was his mother’s. They moved here in 1960, and he moved back in 1992 when she got too sick to live alone. Everything in the dim room speaks of love, care, dedication, and tradition. Mathis sweeps one of his rough hands around the garage and says, “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager”—and thus lays waste to the popular notion that America is a country where nobody makes things anymore.
We wanted to celebrate local artisans such as Mathis, in part to remind ourselves that, yes, America still makes things of rare quality and beauty, things for which you’re likely to pay a premium. You’ll find the results of that search in our “Handmade in O.C.” feature. So here’s to Mathis and all the other uncompromising souls who understand that quality matters, and that there are no shortcuts along the road to excellence.
Speaking of which, this is the first issue of Orange Coast we’ve produced in nearly seven years without the help of Jim Walters, our recently retired managing editor. He, too, was a craftsman in the Mathis mold, and we hope to honor him always by upholding the high standards he set.