Belts as works of art
The 44-year-old craftsman Jason Maida owns Maida’s Belts & Buckles right here in Houston, which is a cross between a museum and a cabinet of curiosities. Maida is a slightly eccentric and knowledgeable guide to such topics as the intricacies of alligator skin to Republic of Texas currency and, yes, buckles.
In 1906, Maida’s great-grandfather, originally from Sicily, found a position repairing shoes at a downtown Houston shop, and a few years later established Maida & Cuccia Shoe Repair. Jason was trained in the family shoe repair shops, with three generations of skill and craftsmanship as his foundation. But Jason had much more than shoe repair in mind. “In high school, I made a belt and put a buckle on it, and a friend liked it and asked me to make one for him,” he says. “I did, and he paid me $50 for it. That was that. I knew what I wanted to do.”
His grandfather told him to go see a man who dealt in buckles, who in turn told Maida to scour antique shops, flea markets and garage sales, where buckles of myriad styles and vintages were hiding in plain sight. Maida studied the designs and their construction, learned to identify the silversmith markings, and developed an intuitive sense of an item’s provenance. He learned to identify whether a buckle was made in Louisiana or Chicago, and committed to memory the histories of the companies and craftspeople behind the buckles. In 1990, Maida, then 19, took his knowledge and opened Maida’s Belts & Buckles, setting up shop in a corner of his uncle’s store in Clear Lake, a mile from NASA’s Space Center Houston.
His collection includes nearly 2,000 vintage and modern belt buckles fashioned from gold, silver and bronze; rare, one-of-a kind buckles, giant, bold buckles that would make a cowboy proud, as well as more refined and intricate examples – not to mention necklaces, bracelets and earrings made of of turquoise and silver and gold, cuff links crafted from gold-filled quartz mined in Australia, and money clips studded with historic currency and diamonds.
Jason Maida’s workshop is a clean and well-lighted place.
“I keep the Western tradition alive though buckles. Some do it through studying and collecting saddles or spurs or boots, but buckles speak to me.” They speak to his customers as well, among them Robert Duvall, Kid Rock and myriad oil executives who trade in Zegna for jeans, boots, and cowboy hats for weekends on their ranches. “Now I have the experience of welcoming long-time clients and their children or grandchildren into the store and helping them pick out graduation and wedding gifts,” Maida says. “It’s the best part of my job, because I can see that something I designed and made is on the way to becoming a family heirloom.”
Jason Maida is a curator, a keeper of the past.
Maida is a people person, full of genuine excitement about places and things. Ask him about the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and his response — which will go on for nearly 10 minutes and should be trademarked by the rodeo marketing committee — makes one ready to learn cattle roping. When he takes an interest in something, he doesn’t stop until he has learned as much as he can about it.
Post and photos courtesy of Paper City.