Sunday, July 31, 2016

Eveli: Energy & Significance

The great Hopi jeweler Charles Loloma (1921-1991) had two protégés: his niece, Verma Nequaptewa, known professionally as Sonwai, and Evelyn Sabatie known simply as Eveli, who is the subject of an exhibition currently at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.

Loloma created jewelry appealing to Anglo taste, not just in the Southwest but on both coasts. He was financially successful, even owning his own plane and having an airstrip just for it on the Hopi reservation. I have mentioned him in various Missives in the past and you can find them by going to and typing Loloma in the search engine on the site.

Evelyn Sabatie was born in 1940 in eastern Algeria. She grew up in Morocco and was educated at the Sorbonne in Paris.  She became interested in the Native Americans and immigrated to the United States in 1968.  In an elevator conversation in San Francisco she was invited to a Bean Dance on 3rd Mesa, Arizona and attended it in early 1969.  While at Hopi, quite by accident she met Charles Loloma in the local laundromat.  He invited her to come to his studio where she stayed until she left Hopi in 1972 and moved to Santa Fe.

Eveli arrived at a time when Loloma’s work was transitioning from cast jewelry to mosaic inlay using, at first, turquoise and ironwood.  Eveli was familiar with Moroccan mosaics from the walls of the mosques so they learned from each other.

In her own words, “My teacher, Loloma, had the talent and skills to unlock my creativity and help me deliver the treasure I had amassed on this already long journey.  In his presence and in the midst of Hopi songs and dances, a door was swung open through which thousands of pieces were about to gush out.”  This kind of transformation going to the Hopi Mesas and their mesmerizing effect in not unique.   It happened to us and others we have known.

Many artists find a niche to to occupy for an entire career, influenced by their dealers or agents who find a market for a certain style or subject matter.  Eveli’s approach is unusual.  She never makes the same piece of jewelry twice.  She has said, “ Every moment of every day is different!  So how can you repeat?  The moment you repeat you kill something.  You’re not really in what’s happening right now.  Every material is different, every hour is different, my mood is different every day.”

The exhibition is in a relatively small gallery but with cases full of these treasures.  The head of the Case Trading Post at the Wheelwright Museum, Ken Williams, who is friendly with Eveli, told me that it is very difficult to find her work today.   One of the reasons for this is that in 1998 when her eyesight started to go and she had trouble with her hands, she stopped making jewelry. 

I have picked just three pieces from private collections to illustrate certain points.

Those who are acquainted with Loloma’s work know the gold bracelets he made with all inlay on the inside because it was done for the wearer to appreciate while the gold glamour was on the outside for the wearer’s public. Here is Eveli’s “Blue Reeds and Purple Nights” Bracelet of 18 karat gold, turquoise and sugilite, fabricated circa 1990.  She has turned Loloma’s idea inside out also adding an additional layer of gold work.

Another extraordinary piece is her “Orchards of Love” brooch circa 1975.  It is made with silver, fossilized ivory, jasper, turquoise and chrysoprase. It is somewhat wacky but I can imagine my wife wearing it and everyone asking, “who made that?”

Photo by Addison Doty

As usual, saving the best for last, there is the jeweled book Eveli created in 1980 called, “The Significance”. It is tufa cast and fabricated silver and gold with turquoise, lapis lazuli, fossilized ivory, wood, coral and other stones, measuring just 4 inches tall.  Here the artist seems to have it all together.  She has gone back to Loloma’s tufa casting technique but brought in the mosaic work as well in a wonderful amalgam, combining a prayer book with the Hopi Way symbolized by the rain cloud on the front.

If you are in town do go by the Wheelwright. After working your way through the main galleries and the jewelry collection discover the work of Eveli, on view through January 15, 2017.

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