Feature article, cover story.

Cowgirls and Indians

Margaret Romero, Storyteller Indian Store, Silverton. Shannan Campbell Wells, Sorrel Sky Gallery, Durango. Model from Ouray Silversmiths, Ouray. Debra Ortega, Debra Ortega Trading, Silverton. All stores are in southwest Colorado.

It’s all in the jewelry!

Tommy Jackson silver and turquoise bracelet turquoise beads (Ivory Trading). Ben Nighthorse Campbell gold jewelry; Artie Yellowhorse coral and silver necklace, turquoise beads (Sorrel Sky Gallery).

Story and photography by Kathryn R. Burke

DISCREET DAYTIME DIAMONDS, a delicate gold chain, or maybe a collar of emeralds adorning a ball gown—these all have a time and place. Like, maybe where tossing tea in the harbor harbored a revolution. But in Colorado, the land of towering mountains and vast blue sky, and Arizona with delicate desert hues contrasted with vivid, colorful sunsets, it’s definitely OK to go large! To layer. To add a couple more pieces and know you can get away with it, whether you are dressed down in jeans or over the top in a killer little black cocktail dress.

Whenever, wherever, and however you wear it, western jewelry is just so much fun! And, it’s so much a part of our geologic and cultural western heritage. After all, it’s the down-to-earth part of where we live: rock and metal. You can’t get much more basic than that.

Tommy Jackson turquoise and silver braceletWhen it comes to big, nobody does big better than Navajo artist Tommy Jackson. Well known for his use of stunning stones coupled with intricate silverwork, Tommy’s specialty, as he puts it, is “good old American turquoise, the kind where the stone speaks for itself.” His newest pieces feature standbys like Bisbee, Royston, #8 Spiderweb and most recently, dark and light green turquoise from the Broken Arrow mine in Nevada. Teamed up with fellow Navajo silversmith, Aaron Anderson, whose specialty is tuffa silver casting, Tommy’s work can be found in Ouray at Ivory’s Trading Company & Gallery*, Ouray, Colo., Storyteller Indian Store, Silverton, Colo. and Carefree, Ariz, and A Shared Blanket, Durango, Colo.

Margaret Romero

Margaret Romero, Storyteller Indian store.

Margaret and David Romero carry an outstanding collection of Indian jewelry in their two Storyteller Indian Stores*, one in Silverton, Colorado (open May – October) and the other in Carefree, Ariz. (open year round). Both stores feature pieces in traditional and contemporary design, some of the latter done by (Silverton) local artist, Little Elk, and Margaret herself. Margaret, pictured here, is wearing one of Little Elk’s necklaces.

Debra Ortega, Indian Trader

Debra Ortega, Indian Trader

With stores in Silverton, Colo. and Mesa, Ariz.* fourth generation trader Debra Ortega offers an incredible selection of Native American jewelry including work by Navajo artists Michael and Michelle Perry and Mary and Evertt Teller, and Zuni artists Nancy and Dennis Edaake and Effie Calavaza.

A visit to Sandy and John Ivory’s Ivory Trading Company and Gallery,* Ouray, Colorado is a special treat. Both are avid collectors of western jewerly and memorabillia. Born and bread westerners—Sandy’s Texas accent still lingers and John, a rancher and cattleman, won a few rodeo buckles before settling down into ranching, and now trading in western goods. They make it a point to carry an outstanding inventory of fine contemporary and traditional Native American jewelry. Here you will find many custom pieces by top designers such as Tommy Jackson, Kee Joe Benally, Rocki Gorman, and B.G. Mudd, as well as more affordable lines. The Ivory’s gallery has a well-earned reputation for their jewelry and fine Navajo rugs, and the gallery carries an impressive selection.

While Native American jewelry, especially designs in turquoise and silver, is generally characteristic of the American Southwest look, it isn’t the only style in the retail showcase…or the jeweler’s bench. Going “western” doesn’t necessarily mean going with Indian jewelry.

Ouray Silversmiths model

An employee at Ouray Silversmiths models the ‘sassy cowgirl look.”

Melanie Kline and her son Josh Kline, Ouray Silversmiths, have created a distinctive style of the old west in material and unique design. Calling it the “sassy cowgirl look,” they use clever combinations that are all their own. Pearls and bullets for earrings. A tangle of silver aspen leaves holding a piece of petrified wood pendant laced with opal. Copper sandwiched in silver and constructed to let the “leathery-looking” burnished metal shine through on a wrist cuff.

Horse bracelet from Ouray Silversmiths.

Horse bracelet from Ouray Silversmiths.

A silver ring or bracelet fabricated to look like a tiny corral, complete with horses, fences, and miniscule gold ropes. Trophy buckles, wrist cuffs, earrings and earring jackets, necklaces, money clips—all of it with the distinctive style of the old west in material and unique design without the “Native American” look so characteristic of the jewelry of the American Southwest. (Melanie’s granddad was an Orthodox cowboy from Thornton, Colo. who mastered the impossible feat of keeping kosher on the range!)

Melanie is world-renowned for her nearly-priceless Judaica. She’s made designs for heads of state, so designing for Colorado cowgirls is a relief and a treat.

Sorrel Sky Gallery, Durango, offers the best of both worlds—both contemporary and traditional design by Native and non-Native artists. Shown right worn by gallery owner Shanan Campbell Wells, the work of Artie Yellowhorse (see detail in image at top of the story) is typified by her intricate hand-made silver beads and contemporary design. For Artie, whose children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews are all involved, jewelry design is a family affair and she’s proud of keeping the tradition alive.

As an artist (and statesman), Ben Nighthorse Campbell stands alone. (His work is also pictured in the jewelry photo at top of the story.) “When someone buys his jewelry, they are participating in a creative transfer,” explains his daughter Shanan. “It’s not just a sale. My father puts the best of everything into his jewelry. I feel like his work is a kind of diary of his life.”

All photography by Kathryn R. Burke, except Shanan Campbell Wells by Paul Ambrose

Models.  Margaret Romero, Silverton, Colo., and Carefree, Ariz., wears original design necklace and cuffs in silver and turquoise by Little Elk, Zuni concho belt.
Shanan Campbell Wells, Sorrel Sky, Durango, Colo., wearing jewelry by Artie Yellowhorse.
Model from Ouray Silversmiths displays the ‘sassy cowgirl” look, wearing jewelry designed by Melanie Kline and her son, Josh Kline.

Update: This story originally appeared in the 2010 Summer issue of the San Juan Silver Stage. An abbreviated version is still available online. at an archived version of the older Silver Stage. (The newer issues are here at SilverStage.news.)  *Since this story was written, the Ivory’s have closed their gallery in Ouray (although they are still art dealers) and the Romeros have taken over, adding another Storyteller store.  (The original is in Carefree, Ariz, with a second store in Silverton Colo.).  Melaine Kline closed her shop in Ouray and her sons took over the Ouray Silversmiths store in Montrose, Colo. Debra Ortega closed her store in Silverton, but she has several other stores in Arizona, and one in Carefree, AZ, near the original Storyteller store.