Willie Lusk boots are legendary. Just ask collectors around the world!
The Museum of Texas Tech University asked Stellar Media to produce a virtual experience for their Lubbock Boot Makers exhibit. After we heard their requirements for the project, we got to work on a custom website complete with unique video elements. The main website header footage of the Willie Lusk boots was shot in studio, while we filmed the other b-roll in the exhibit itself.
We think the finished product turned out great, and believe it is a fitting tribute to a local, Lubbock legend.
In a 1951 radio interview, Lubbock bootmaker, Willie Lusk was asked about being proclaimed the best boot maker in the world. He replied: “Well, that’s what people say, but I don’t know, I just do the best I can, that’s all.”
His “best” were sought-after, high quality boots for both the workingman and celebrities such as former President Ronald Reagan, movie star Shirley Temple, TV star Betty White, country music legend Merle Haggard and governors of several Western states.
Lusk’s precision and artistry has inspired many bootmakers –including contemporary artisan Brad Glenn.
Lusk was born in 1914 and began working at a boot shop in his native San Angelo when he was 12 years old. He learned to craft and repair boots from Frank Urban, a Czech immigrant, who worked in the shop with Lusk. Lusk worked for seven years making a dollar a day until he moved to Brown’s Saddle Shop of Lubbock in 1934. Within this span, Lusk would become foreman of Brown’s shop – given the era, this was an uncommon designation for an African-American man to supervise a largely white workforce.
Bennie Binion, a Dallas gambler who was one of Lusk’s customers, asked Lusk why he did not have his own shop. Lusk told the gambler he did not have the needed $2,500, so Binion gave him the money. Lusk’s shop opened on Avenue A in Lubbock. Within six months he was already backed up a half year on orders.
Lusk’s boots were famous for careful fittings, but notably, his variation of the Number 10 Flame Stitch – now known as the Lusk Pattern. Much of the stitching was done by Evelyn Green, a woman who started working with Lusk at Brown’s shop and came with him when he opened his own place.
Every Lusk customer had his or her foot immortalized on a hand-drawn chart with numbers representing the ridges, elevations and depressions of their foot. It looked like a topographic map.
You could not get Lusk boots without submitting your feet to Lusk’s process.
“If a boot don’t fit, it ain’t worth buying,” Lusk would say. He told a reporter in 1960: “The wearing is the difference. You can tell my boot by the way it wears.”
He’d travel to Las Vegas during the now-extinct Hell-dorado festival or the horse sale in Miles City, Montana to chart feet and take orders.
Willie Lusk died on July 3, 1976 of cancer.
Lusk is buried in Peaceful Gardens Memorial Park in the shadow of Lubbock Cooper High School. There is a Lubbock park named for him and in 1986, a pair of Lusk’s boots were in a traveling exhibit for the Texas Sesquicentennial. Today, around the world, a Lusk-made boot inspires revered admiration by collectors and wearers of cowboy boots.