Creative Coiling: Used Ropes Get Second Life As Art



Worn out by years of working cattle and being dragged through the muck of rodeo arenas, cowboy ropes get a new life in the hands of Nancy Coughlin.

Coughlin is a real estate agent who has lived in the Payson area for nearly 20 years. For a time she also participated in mounted shooting competitions and helped with roping competitions until back problems caused her doctor to tell her to give it up.


Just about everywhere you look in Nancy Coughlin's Round Valley home you will see examples of her Cowboy Rope Art. From utensil and snack holders in the kitchen to a big, sturdy basket for wood on the front porch.

While traveling in 1998, she stopped at a feed store and saw cowboy rope art for the first time. She loved it and felt a lot of people she knew would love it, too. She bought a piece at the feed store and started studying it. Now, just about everywhere you look in her Round Valley home you will see cowboy rope art in different forms.

In the kitchen a tall vase-like piece holds cooking utensils, there are baskets -- she calls them one-rope baskets -- serving as a catch-all and one lined with a bandanna holds snacks.

A deeper basket in the living room holds the remote controls for the television and stereo. There are planters and containers for magazines, lamps and clocks, on the porch is another basket, large enough to hold firewood.

By the door, a picture is framed by rope. "I won't do that again," Coughlin said. "Rope wants to curl, it doesn't want to go straight. Making that picture frame was hard."

But her hardest project by far is one that took three people to get started.

She decided to make a large vase using three ropes braided together. Coughlin was able to do the braiding, but when it came to starting the construction, she had to call in two of her friends to help her get the braided rope into a coil formation.

The piece now sits atop the half-wall in the entry of Coughlin's bedroom.

The used cowboy ropes are made of nylon and while they have seen better days, when they come into Coughlin's possession they are still stiff and tough -- remember these are tools used to slow down a running animal that weighs upward of 800 pounds. They may want to curl, but getting them into rounded shapes takes a lot of elbow grease and a couple of pieces of special equipment Coughlin has made through adapting other tools.


One of the most difficult pieces of Cowboy Rope Art Nancy Coughlin has crafted is a large vase she has in her bedroom. It is three ropes braided together then coiled into a container.

And the pieces have to stay in the shape she creates with them. She said that is her trade secret and she doesn't share it -- except to say it uses heat.

In addition to making rope art pieces for her own home, Coughlin does custom orders and also has her work on display at the Fireside Espresso shop in the Swiss Village. They can also be found in Pagosa Springs, Colo. where they are used to created specialty gift baskets.

"The ropes start out green (in color)," Coughlin said (though some manufacturers have started adding color) through use in ranching or competitions, they take on a different color -- browned or faded in places, beginning to fray slightly, black in others where they have been wrapped around saddle horns sheathed in bicycle tire rubber to give them more grip.

"The color of the rope gives it character," Coughlin said. "It tells the story of what it has been used for. I want the character."

The ropes don't go straight from cowboy castoffs into pieces of art though. Coughlin cleans them up before using them and after washing them (using a hose and a big tub in her backyard, not a machine) she coils them for storage.

The most popular pieces she does are what she calls her "one-rope" plant baskets. She uses a single rope and it will take about two hours to make -- if her arthritis is not bothering her.

Coughlin's favorite pieces to make are her rope-wrapped mirrors.

Right now she is building her inventory for Christmas, so if you see one of her pieces at Fireside Espresso and would like something like it, give her a call.

Coughlin can be reached at (928) 978-1802 or by e-mail at

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