Features & Stories

Story and photos by Trudy Frisk

Kristine Henry with some of her creations.
I was strolling through the trade show at the Kamloops Cowboy Festival when my friend clutched my arm.  “You have to see this!” she exclaimed, towing me off towards a display.  “Look at that!”  She twirled a lazy susan.  I looked in amazement.  There were beautiful bowls, baskets, picture frames, framed clocks, mirrors, and lamps. All made of rope.

Seeing the quality and variety of her work, it’s hard to believe that Kristine Henry has only been making her Longhorn Rope Creations for five years. Of course she’s actually been working with ropes for much longer.

She’s a team roper herself.  From 1990 to 2005 she and her husband Doug had a big indoor arena in Vernon, B.C., where they taught team roping and put on team roping events from October to March every year.

There always seemed to be a lot of rope lying around.  “When team ropers were’t happy with their ropes, they just threw them away. “ Kristine remembers. She thought a lot about those rejected ropes.

A few years ago Kristine saw a rope bowl.  “I thought, ‘I can make that’. So, I got a glue gun out of my husband’s desk while he roped and I made a bowl.  Now I use a soldering iron because glue doesn’t hold.”

She was fascinated.  She got some e-mail instructions from a lady in Arizona; all the rest has been trial and error and experimentation.  Rope art is more widely done in Arizona, but the artists don’t seem to stick with it.  Kristine’s theory is that they run out of rope.

She and Doug don’t have the big arena now, they have a smaller place in Armstrong, where they still train ropers and run forty head of longhorn cattle.  Team ropers seem to be hoarding their ropes, too.  “I should have collected more when we had the arena!”

Because the ropes are used, no two are alike.  They wear and weather differently.  There are darker spots where they’ve been dallied around the saddle horn.  This means that all Kristine’s creations are unique. “It’s impossible to make two the same.  I’ve tried.”

She’s on the trail of used ropes. Fellow team ropers who winter in Arizona promised to bring her back used ropes.  Imagine explaining that at the border.  She has a friend in Celista B.C. who uses a lot of rope.  If she’s doing a big project, like a tall lamp or a clock, she’ll wait for him to go through about six ropes.  A big lamp takes three ropes. A water fountain took six .

The ropes are of different strengths and hardness.  Heel ropes, which are thirty-five feet long, are harder and thicker. Thirty-foot long head ropes are softer.  When she ropes Kristine prefers to use a head rope.  “Women’s hands are smaller.”

How long a rope lasts depends on the roper and the rope.  “Usually two months and the rope’s done.”  In bad weather the rope doesn’t last as long.  When it’s discarded, Kristine’s right there waiting. “It’s recycling at it’s best!”

Doug, her husband, is very helpful and supportive.  Mind you, for her first project, Kristine wanted to be sure she didn’t waste a good rope.  She dug around and chose one  lying on the bottom of a pile.  “That was my best poly rope!” moaned Doug when he realized what had happened.

Kristine mostly works on her creations in the winter, when she can’t go outside.  “I go looking for things to put rope around.  I just keep looking and looking for something that’s totally different; I don’t want to keep making the same things. “

Kristine's display at the 2009 Kamloops Cowboy Festival.
She washes the rope first.  For smaller items she’ll take it apart and use fewer strands.  All her ropes have been used. If some are newer looking, she’ll dye them colours that would go with western décor.  It’s all exciting.  “When I’ve found something I think I’d like to make, I think, ‘I have go get home right away and make that to see how it looks!’”
There’s more to her pieces than the ropes; she has to rewire the lamps and find shades to match a western motif.  Fountains have to be set up correctly.

Kristine has done some custom work. When someone who was a team roper has died, friends have commissioned picture frames made from his favourite rope.

Kristine also decorates and sells longhorn skulls.

She doesn’t think of her creations as art.  “I have trouble with people calling me an artist.  It’s a hobby to me. “  She insists she does it to earn money to pay for music lessons.  In addition to helping Doug organize team roping lessons and care for their longhorn herd, she’s taking lessons in banjo, guitar, mandolin and harmonica. “I don’t play in public yet, but it’s good for the mind.”    

Kristine’s philosophy is summed up in her brochure: “ Besides his horse, the most essential tool for a cowboy is his rope.  No two ropes are exactly alike.  Each is as unique as the cowboy who used it.  Each rope has had different uses and could probably tell different stories-from tying up broken down fences, snubbing up a cow for doctoring, towing an old broken down pickup, to heading or heeling cattle in team roping. ..If you are looking for an authentic piece of the True West, you’ve come to the right place.”

Other articles by Trudy Frisk

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