Made in Colorado 2016: Lyda Oliver
She just celebrated her 30th year making Johnson & Held buckles
Johnson & Held Buckles, Denver
Now 52, Oliver just celebrated her 30th anniversary making high-style Western belt buckles at Johnson & Held.
“I’ve been here a while,” she laughs. “Obviously, it’s a pretty good job. I’ve been doing it forever.”
She originally found the job at the company via a want ad in the newspaper when she was 22. “Belt buckles, will train,” she says. “I said, ‘I’ll give it a shot.’
“Tens of thousands” of belt buckles later, “I think now, ‘What the heck would I do if I did leave?’”
She caught on quick after she got comfortable with the equipment. “I had never worked with electronic tools, so that was pretty intimidating.”
Beyond that, completing inlays and other detail-oriented work on flashy belt buckles was second nature for Oliver. “Either you can do it or you can’t,” she says. “It’s not something that can be taught.” Rather, it’s all about hand-eye coordination and having “artistic bent.”
She uses a wide variety of stone, wood and shells in inlays to add colorful accents, create custom designs, recreate Colorado flags, and otherwise make a belt buckle really pop. Some buckles take a few minutes, she says, others take hours. “You have to make sure it all lines up,” she says. “It’s a process.”
After meticulous cutting, placing, gluing and grinding, Oliver pours resin on the buckle and passes it on to the finishing department.
Oliver’s workspace features dozens of pictures of cats ranging from kittens to tigers, an armada of dinky solar-powered robot toys, and a wall full of snapshots and cartoon characters. “This is like my second home,” she says. “We’re kind of like a family. You spend more waking hours here than you do at home.”