Sunday, August 17, 2014

Native American Bolo Ties: Vintage and Contemporary Artistry

I first heard about this exhibition when the collector, Norman L. Sandfield and the curator from the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Diana F. Pardu came to Santa Fe to do a slide lecture and book signing at the Wheelwright Museum here in Santa Fe.  They also told us that this exhibition which opened at the Heard would be coming to the Albuquerque Art Museum. That was 2 or 3 years ago.

The exhibition has finally come to New Mexico and an engaging show it is.  It consists of bola’s both from the Sandfield Collection and the Heard.  As you may have already noticed I am using both bolo and bola interchangeably as they are both in popular usage.  Possibly bola more on the East Coast and bolo more in the West.

I want to call your attention to a statement in the catalog that I have never seen before, Stanfield writes, “This book could not have been done without the aid of the Internet – a research tool many of us take for granted today“.  This is a thought I have every week as I write my missives.  Actually, they would be possible but considering the needed trips to the library I would be able to write one a month rather than one a week and it would be a full time job!

Enough digression.  The Native American bolo only arrived on the scene in the mid- 1940’s but the string tie dates back to the Victorian Era.  In the 1950’s I remember wearing a yellow kerchief tie held with a slide in the cub scouts and those could be found in the West as well. On the cover of Life Magazine in 1950 there was an image of Hopalong Cassidy, the popular TV character wearing a kerchief with a slide.

Photo compliments of the Heard by the Albuquerque Art Museum


Photo from the catalog

The bolo became a statement of defiance to East Coast neckwear which I can totally sympathize with since from the age of 6 I had to wear a fabric tie to school everyday and it was de riguer to wear one in our gallery.  Shortly after we fell in love with the Southwest I started to wear bolos and spent the next 20 years giving most of the cloth ties away.  I still have a few like the one that was knitted for me, a cork tie which we bought in a household fair in Munich, and a few with western motifs.  I can hardly remember wearing any of these.  I used to wear fabric ties in Europe until I sat in the office of a German curator who just had an open collar. After that I gave up the Eastern tie there as well.


When I don’t wear a bola in Europe my friends often let me know that they are not happy with me.  Only once have I had a criticism from a society lady who did not think it proper decorum to wear the bola to a black tie event.  As a matter of fact in 1971 the bolo tie became the official neckwear of the state of Arizona…. Maybe that is where I should wear my last fabric ties!

The first Native American bola tie that can be documented dates from the 1940’s and was made by the Hopi silversmith Willie Coin (1904-1992).  It was commissioned about 1947 by the co-founder and director of the Museum of Northern Arizona, Harold Colton.  His wife, the other co-founder,  Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton had developed an overlay silver technique so that Hopi silver work could be distinguished from that of the Navajo.  The bola depicts the logo of the Museum and the tips are in the shape of archeology tools.  The tie was worn by successive directors until 1983 when the director donated it to the museum collection.

MNA Collections #E8754 Willie Coin

I encourage you to see the exhibition whose run has just been extended to October 12 or acquire the catalog with its excellent reproductions.  The following images, however, are from my personal collection of bolos created by the Hopi.

The first one I acquired was at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff which like the Heard sells bolos in their gift shop acquired directly from the Indian artists. It is an unusual but not rare format with shaped and worked tips.  The maker was Victor Coochwytewa  (1922-2011).  He is one of the artists we actually got to meet on Second Mesa.  He questioned me about a bracelet he had made that I was wearing and asked if it had a copyright mark.  When I replied in the negative he took it from me went into his shop and added the mark.  When he brought it back he said, “it is however, difficult to sue your friends and relatives”.  He meant that they would be the ones to copy a bracelet like his.  Unfortunately, that is not the case because I learned shortly thereafter that the Japanese had a prime industry in faking Hopi silver!



The second bola is one that I commissioned.  There was a spider buckle in the collection of the Museum of Northern Arizona that I had always admired and wanted something like it, but I did not want a copy. So I asked the artist Weaver Selina who had made the buckle in the museum if he would make me a bola with that design.  When it did not arrive, we went the following year to visit his studio/home on the Hopi reservation and bought an embroidered Kleenex box from his grand daughter in the shop, and still no bola.  The next year, visiting again, I brought photographs of the grandkids and I guess that got Mrs. Selina on my side: and that fall a brown envelope arrived with my bola and a bill for $125.



The Hopi, however, do not produce bolas only in overlay silver but they also do wonderful lapidary work.  Charles Loloma (1921-1991), an internationally known Hopi jeweler, did some of the earliest lapidary work.  The one piece that I would covet from the show is a Loloma bola illustrated here.

Photo compliments of the Heard by the Albuquerque Art Museum

The piece that we own is an early pendant that he made for his aunt.



In the 21st century Raymond Sequaptewa has added his own touch to the tradition.  He is not from 2nd Mesa as are the other bolas here but from 3rd Mesa.  He is not only a jeweler but a Medicine Man and Healer as well.



My final bola is by the grandson of one of the great artists of the Hopi tradition Fred Kabotie (1900-1986).  Ed Kabotie’s first love is music, he plays at various functions in New Mexico and we own a couple of disks by him.  He is, however an accomplished silversmith and painter as well.   This bolo we bought from him at Indian Market a few years ago has a small piece of turquoise that he found in his grandfather’s tool box that he had inherited.  I get more positive comments when I wear this one than any of my others.


1 comment:

  1. Loved hearing your thoughts on this show! I've seen the book but not been to the exhibition, so thanks for letting us know it has been extended into October. I have always wanted to design a bolo, sometimes I doodle ideas, but haven't followed through. Tempting!!!

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