What’s A Professional Whipmaker?

One thought I’ve had from time to time, even discussed with other whipmakers, in regards to the subject of whipmaking…when is a whipmaker considered a professional whipmaker? Though I myself do build whips as my main profession, I don’t regard myself as a professional whipmaker. Now & then, while surfing the web, I’ll come across someone’s website & read the words, "I’ve been making whips professionally for [some number of years]." This statement isn’t unique to any one person, so please understand, I’m not focusing on any individual, but on the subject of professional whipmaking. Also, it isn’t my intent to cause speculation of anyone that does claim to be a professional, so please don’t read into this as anything more than that. 

When someone states that they’ve been making whips professionally for a certain length of time, are they a self-proclaimed professional? Did they become a professional after a specified number of years? Do you see what I’m getting at here…what is a professional whipmaker and how does a person become one? If you could take a poll of every single whipmaker that’s ever lived, past & present, I’m sure the opinions would be as diverse as they are interesting.

Australia is rich in many traditions, whipmaking being just one of those jewels. Long ago, someone learning the trade of whipmaking would work a number of years as an apprentice to an established whipmaker, being taught the craft under the watchful eye of his or her mentor. This is still true today, though not with all who learn this meticulous craft. Most of the whipmakers in this country are labeled as self-taught. Here in the U.S., whipmaking was quickly becoming a dying trade until, with the help of the big screen, a man named David Morgan did much to help recapture the interest in building whips. His example helped turn the attention of would-be whipmakers back to the Australian principles that had influenced Mr. Morgan’s own whipmaking. Today, scores of people can trace their first interest in whips back to the Indiana Jones movies and the man who made the early whips used in the filmmaking, David Morgan.

Who am I to say who’s a professional and who isn’t? Perhaps those who’ve been taught in the traditional Australian way should decide. Maybe those who study whips in general or historians of the trade would be better equipped to outline the requirements of a professional whipmaker. Or possibly those who have handled a vast assortment of whips from artisans around the world and over many decades. Each of us has his own criteria, I believe, for determining who we feel deserves the title of professional whipmaker. Here are just a few of my observations of some of the top whipmakers of today. 

1. The top whipmakers of today consistently offer quality products. Each of them has his/her own standard of quality. What one may feel is a good product, another may not allow to leave the shop. He or she decides what their standard is, consistently adhering to it. Because of this, people come to expect a consistent level of quality.

2. The top whipmakers are always learning. They’re very teachable, as much now as when they started.  They can never know enough about their craft. They read everything they can get their hands on, talk with other whipmakers, share ideas, practice, practice, practice. They’re always learning.

3. Because the top whipmakers are always learning, they are always improving. I remember reading in a forum years ago a statement by Paul Stenhouse. It was to the effect that his skill was to the point of refining, "always refining." If I were to look at say, a Joe Strain whip, from 2 years back, and then one he finished today, there may not be any noticeable differences to me. Yet there may be to him. He could tell you what he does better today, though his skill is already head & shoulders above most others. The differences may be subtle, as refinement usually is. The top whipmakers are always improving, forever raising their own standards.

4. The top whipmakers act professional. For them, whipmaking is a livelihood, not a means to simply make money. Many refer to it as a passion, an art. For them, it’s about making the best product they can make and not making a name for themselves. They are respectful of their peers and always remember who went before them. They take pride in their craft, are gracious, and would never intentionally say or do anything to hurt this craft or anyone else dedicated to its furtherance.

5. To a professional, it’s never about the title & always about the work. If ones takes whipmaking seriously, is committed to always learning & improving, then at some point, he or she will be taken seriously by others. Maybe that’s what ultimately being a professional is.

In the end, each of us has his or her own ideas on what a professional whipmaker is. For in this vocation, the lines aren’t clearly drawn. There are no schools or universities handing out diplomas or degrees in whipmaking. No board of trustees or panel to stand before & answer endless questions. No written or physical test determining one’s whipmaking status. If one must seek to be known as a professional whipmaker, then learn as much as possible, constantly work at improving your skills, act professional & strive to make the best whips you can possibly make. I think maybe, if we just focused on those things, the word professional wouldn’t really matter all that much.

Thanks for reading~ Steve.

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One Response to What’s A Professional Whipmaker?

  1. Mel says:

    WoooooHooooooo Steve haven\’t you been a busy boy, I forget to stalk your blog for a little while and when I come back to it there is a multitude to read…..Interesting your thoughts on *professional* whip makers, it\’s obviously been on all our minds recently along with that other name *Master* whip maker mmmmmmmmm!!!!!Master whip maker first, I know everyone feels differently but my own personal opinion is that there are very few who would and should be considered Master Whip makers, Chris Barr, Bill Glasgow, the guys who are doing high plait and high performance work on a regular basis, the rest of us that would or could be considered *professional* whip makers are very much I believe in a pack behind the elite few snapping away at their heels, this is very healthy I think we all need someone to aspire to and chase. This I think is where you move on from learning the principles of making whips into refining and developing your own pattern and style comes from, as you stated Steve nothing is set in stone and that is just my thought, my pet hate actually is a certain German fella we both know who keeps referring to me as a master whip maker, I find it very uncomfortable and most certainly do not consider myself to be one, he is of course entitled to his opinion.Professional whip maker, could the explanation of that be as simple as any person who makes a living plaiting whips, as opposed to someone who has a job and makes and sells whips as a hobby?…….I\’m not sure I know the answer or that I even have a fixed opinion on it as such, however, talking to another whip maker just the other day who is only 2 years into whip making and served or in effect is still serving an apprentaship of sorts prompted me to go onto their site and look at prices, there is no distinction in price between the whip maker who has 10 years experience and the whip maker with only 2 and this prompted my thoughts on what and when a whip maker should be considered a professional whip maker. If I was spending my hard earned money with this particular business would I expect to pay the same very high end price to the apprentice as I would to the experienced whip maker? Actually I think I would expect to pay less, the trouble is I’m not sure if I’m only of that opinion because I know whips so well and know that time served and experience counts, very much it counts, yet again that though is just my opinion. The thing that throws the spanner in the works is something that was said to me years ago by a whip vendor who bought my whips wholesale in the early days when I took on that kind of work, I asked him why he bought my work rather than the work of *X* whip maker who was much more experienced than me, his reply has always stuck with me over the years *You might of only been making them a couple of years Tony but your leaps and bounds ahead of *X* he just doesn’t have the hands for it* I’ve actually seen a lot of evidence of this over the years from my observations it seems that you can only teach people so far and so much, after that they are in effect a whip maker but for them to go on and become a good whip maker there needs to be something from within to make them that, passion, desire etc etc…Well lots of rambling thoughts and no answers as such to your questions Steve but at least you know your friend from across the pond with two websites ponders the same thoughts as your good self…LOLTake careTony

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