Retired West Texas Coach Makes Bows, Native American Replica

Former teacher and coach Joe Hernandez officially retired at the beginning of the 2018 calendar year.

However, the idea of retirement doesn't sit well with him.

The Odessa American reports Hernandez prefers the term renaissance.

More than nine years ago, Hernandez learned traditional bow making techniques from renowned bowyer Ed Scott. Hernandez's affinity for bows turned from recreational to passion and potential source of income.

"It's a new beginning," Hernandez said. "I've done everything else -- business, politics, teaching, coaching. Now, it's something else.

"I'm no spring chicken, but I can still go," he added with a laugh.

Hernandez, who is still reorganizing his entire shop, hopes he can begin his bow making classes in early January. His shop, located at 1303 E. Sixth St., spans 450 square feet, includes four stave presses, a work bench, woodworking tools hanging from the wall, and chalk and dry erase boards at the front of the room.

Hernandez owns the shop, which means he doesn't have to worry about steep rent prices in Odessa. In turn, he won't have to charge a steep price for his bow making class. He said he's expecting to charge $275 for the class.

Hernandez said his bow making class can be anywhere from a three-day to five-day process depending on the person's experience with woodworking.

"It's a big financial advantage," Hernandez said. "I don't have to pay anybody to use their building. If it takes five days, we are going to take five days. If it takes three, we are going to do three. It's a big advantage to have your own space.

"If I had to pay $1,000 a month for somebody's lease, I would have to charge $400 or $500 per student to make ends meet. I don't have to do that."

Though Hernandez hasn't taught in a classroom for more than 20 years, he said the enthusiasm he has for teaching never went away. Hernandez, who attended Angelo State University on a football kicking scholarship, started teaching at Ector High School in 1971. He also coached basketball, football and track and field.

While he was a teacher at Blackshear, Hernandez had a side job on the weekends at a liquor store. He eventually purchased the liquor store in 1975, sold it in 1987 and then went on to be a county commissioner. He was elected in Ector County Precinct 4 for four years from 1987 to 1990. He went back to teaching in 1990 before he accepted a job in the oil field.

Hernandez worked as a safety director for Master Corporation for the last 20 years. He knew after his 2009 trip to Scott's shop, Hernandez wanted to teach others how to make traditional bows.

"Once a teacher, always a teacher," he said. "Teaching is teaching."

Despite spending the last decade making bows, he continually tunes his craft.

Hernandez works with a variety of woods -- including bamboo, ash, yew, osage and mesquite -- and uses sinew, horn, snake skin, javelina rawhide and deer rawhide to back the bow. He said depending on the piece of wood he uses, it will dictate the type of bow he will make. Hernandez explained if a bowyer forces a certain bow, it will break.

On hunting bows, he will also attach a silencer to the top and bottom of the string. The hunting bow Hernandez uses has muskrat fur for silencers. Silencers can be put on for decorative purposes if a person is going to hang it in their house.

"You can make a complete bow and then you start to tiller and when you tiller you are trying to get the limbs to bend identically," Hernandez said. "You do all this and then you string your bow to pull on it and you hear this crack. When you hear that crack, your bow is no good. You go through a lot of insecurities."

Like many artists, Hernandez barters his handmade bows for other items. He donated five bows to the Tigua Indians and as compensation the Native Americans offered a headdress.

The biggest donation Hernandez would like to make is a free bow making class for veterans. Hernandez -- who was in the Army after he graduated from Angelo State -- teamed up with Scott to donate their time to hold a bow making class for wounded warriors in 2009 and 2010.

Hernandez was born and raised in Marfa and from the time he was two years old he had a slingshot or a bow in hand. During his senior year of high school in 1967, Hernandez was part of the junior historical society club that helped found the Marfa and Presidio County Museum.

His traditional bow making allowed him the opportunity to craft an Apache replica bow and primitive arrows. Those replicas will be on display at the Marfa and Presidio County Museum in the summer of 2019.

"Not only do you get acknowledged for it, but you get to take something to display on something you started," he said. "It's a big honor."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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