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El Dorado WoodworksThe thought of selling Arts and Crafts furniture at a Texas rodeo and livestock show definitely bucks the norm, but that is exactly how one Houston furniture maker got his foot in the door, developed a clientele, and created his successful business. Richard Loper, the owner of El Dorado Woodworks in Houston, has come a long way from a struggling career as a professional photographer to a nationally known maker of Arts and Crafts furniture. His two-man shop and showroom are a step back in time, filled with pieces originally designed by the likes of Greene & Greene, Gustav Stickley and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Loper grew up in Delaware, lived in New Orleans for a time, moved around some more and in 1993 received a bachelor’s degree in photography from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. For 10 years he was a professional photographer in Houston, while on the side he collected a few tools and built small projects for friends and family. He had no formal woodworking training, but in 1993 added furniture making to his portfolio.

“I could see that the photography business wasn’t my future, and I had a friend in the advertising business, and she and her husband started building metal cowboy-style furniture and exhibiting at the Houston rodeo; that sparked a direction for me,” Loper recalls. “You build a metal chair and you put a nice big cushy cushion on it and it is OK. With a little bit of help from them directing me, guiding me, I started building Western-style furniture.”

A portion of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo resembles a home show, devoted to vendor areas selling anything from cowboy hats to jewelry to Western clothing and furniture. The rodeo attracts more than one million people each year during its 17-day run.

“The hours are brutal; they’re 9 a.m. until 11 p.m., every day, and back then I was working by myself,” Loper says. “So by the end of the show I’m ready to die. But that’s how I started, and I made incredible contacts there. I haven’t done the rodeo in 10 years now. Once I had the showroom, I didn’t need the rodeo or home shows anymore.”

Love at first sight
While displaying his Western furniture in 1994 at a Dallas furniture market, Loper encountered what could be described as a life-changing event or a near-religious experience — he discovered Arts and Crafts furniture.