Sunday, July 20, 2008

Ev'rythin's up to date in Kansas City

Zuni Silversmith Don Dewa began his career as a jewelry maker in 1970. His name is now one of the top in the business. Don doesn't like making buckles, so I feel fortunate to have acquired this Western buckle and the ranger buckle set earlier shown in this blog. Don's craftsmanship is perfect in most every respect. He is now especially noted for his use of the spinner in his products. The buckle shown here has three sunface spinners and the center piece has a circular red spinner for a total of four. This is his first of this design. When I look at this exquisite buckle, I can hear Cowboy Will Parker from Roger and Hammerstein's landmark musical Oklahoma clearly singing out: "Ev'rythin's up to date in Kansas City. They've gone about as fur as they c'n go!" Yep, this buckle is a picture of artistic perfection, definitely worthy of Will's vision of Kansas City and the glorious things he found there. I think Mr. Dewa has gone about as far as he can go.

Don recently accepted an invitation to personally visit and show his work in Japan. Now that trumps Kansas City.

Retail value of Western Buckle: $4800.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Clayton's Cosmic Bear

Last week I was asked to write up a promotional piece on Clayton Tom. Even though some of the information has been previously presented in this blog, I thought I'd include it anyway. I chose the cosmic bear as the best example of his work. The bear shown here is actually signed inside the bale as a Calvin Begay piece, but the inlay and front design are what really bring it to life so it's credited more Clayton than Calvin. Last night I asked Sandy to string it on turquoise and wear it to the Santa Fe Opera. As we knew it would, it proved to a be an irresistible eye catcher. Once the silver is cast, it takes Clayton about 3 days to do the full inlay and deliver the finished product. This piece retails for around $1400.

The name Clayton Tom is well woven into the fabric of celebrated Native American artists of the new century. His brilliant jewelry has consistently earned him top awards at major jewelry art shows and led to his recognition as one of the great masters of micro-inlay design and technique. His name is always a contender as tops in his speciality, but most often seen now as a credit to his jewelry when displayed in books or periodicals that feature Native American Art. Frequently in short supply and hard to find, his jewelry is always in high demand as showcase inventory among Southwestern jewelry dealers. It is similarly prized among Native American jewelry collectors, and readily coveted by those who just see his masterful creations. Clayton’s award winning work includes concho belts, necklaces, and ranger belt buckle sets, but his personal favorite and most beloved is the cosmic bear pendant which celebrates the Yei-bi-Chai, supernatural beings in the Navajo culture who are sometimes referred to as the "Medicine People", the "Holy People", or "Winter Gods". The "Winter Gods" reference arises from the Yei Bi 'Chai ceremony held in the late fall or early winter. In Navajo culture, they are believed to be the source of healing powers and blesser of the corn.

Even though Clayton’s jewel creations are hailed as the crème del crème of the microinlay world, the artist himself avoids the limelight and there is little published on the man himself. I caught up with Clayton in his workspace. It’s impressive to see him grind away at tiny pieces of stones to precisely fit tiny allocated slivers and dots into channels of sterling silver. When I asked about the particular pendant design he was working on the day I interviewed him, he looked up and pulled down a piece of ratty corrugated cardboard to show me his inception drawing. His reverence for traditional Navajo ways was apparent as he went on to explain that he was not supposed to be doing Yei-be-Chai image work in the winter. He elaborated by describing the physical consequences of violating this taboo. I was glad to hear that said consequences weighed in on the minor ailment scale. He told me much more, but between the grinding wheel and his loud rock music, I did not hear much of what he had to say.

Clayton Tom was born in Denver, Colorado in 1970 while his parents were away on job-site. He was raised on the Navajo reservation in Tse-Yah-Toh, New Mexico. He graduated from Gallup High School and now lives with his family a few miles South of Gallup in Vanderwagon, New Mexico. His hobby is building car and truck engines.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Master Silversmith Alex Sanchez

Alex Sanchez (Navajo) is something of newcommer on the block here in Gallup. He's been silversmithing for a half-dozen years and marketing his work through merchants in Santa Fe & Albuquerque even though he lives just outside of Gallup. One of my wholesaler friends met him at the prestigous annual Native American Treasures Arts Festival in Santa Fe and persuaded him to market some of his items through her trading company. That's where I first met Alex and was introduced to his rather unique work superbly crafted with a mix of old vintage technique bursting with Native American symbols and yet ignited by contemporary flair. I cannot think of any other artist who compares. There is but a hint in the image above, but Alex dutifully stamps the back of his pieces with decorative imprints. This year I made sure to drop by his booth in Santa Fe; he was having a very good day. Alex is a fairly young man, I expect him to have many good days ahead and to see his name one day in our own sidewalk hall of fame if we ever get one. At any rate this man's work is highly collectible, very reasonably priced considering the top-of-the-line quality and unique individual design of each piece. It is worthy of any museum that honors Native American Jewelry. We at Wilford's are exceedingly proud to be promoting Alex's fine art.