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Marti's Foreward From Shared Images


     "In the mid-1970s my Indian art business in Chicago was blossoming from a tiny shop into a full-fledged art gallery.  I began to mount exhibitions of well-designed contemporary Indian art; this required a continual search for artists creating original works.  I sought artists whose design concepts reached beyond the traditional boundaries of what was then thought of as "Indian art." In the fall of 1977, a visitor came by my gallery.  He asked if I had met a couple of young artists named Gail Bird and Yazzie Johnson. "They are newcomers," he remarked, "and they're doing some innovative jewelry." He gave me their phone number and I determined to look them up on my next trip to Santa Fe.

     Later, I called and they graciously agreed to see me.  I drove up to their home in northern New Mexico. Gail was ill but Yazzie met with me. He talked about their design concepts and his personal interest in scuptural forms, and I was impressed with the jewelry I saw. Their designs, using a variety of stones set in silver and brass, were clearly in tune with modern tastes. By using a far greater variety of stone types than turquoise and coral alone, they were able to create simple, elegant geometric combinations to very strong effect.

     I was pleased to purchase several items. We found we shared similar ideas about the design and presentation of jewelry and agreed to an exhibition and sale of their jewelry in Chicago in October 1978.  This was the first of many Gail and Yazzie openings at the Indian Tree, my Chicago gallery, thus launching a long and close friendship and twenty-eight years of successful business together. I have seen their ideas continue to evolve into remarkably sophisticated jewelry as they have been recognized by countless awards including Best of Show at Indian Market. I also found that when I needed help, Gail and Yazzie were among the first to be there.

     Gail and Yazzie have a special symbiosis that strengthens their remarkable talents.  Gail is gregarious-outgoing, bright, thoughftul, alert to good design and original ideas. She frequently lectures on American Indian jewelry and always goes out of her way to recognize and promote promising artists.  I know few artists so willing to endorse others. When they begin a new project it is usually Gail who sketches the initial concept; then their teamwork begins. Yazzie is quiet and contemplative, with a wonderful, sometimes ironic sense of humor. He has developed great skill in transforming the chosen metal into forms that please him.  He sets the wide combination of stones or pearls they have agreed on, then adds witty touches to the petroglyph-like motifs he often fashions on the inside surface of his metalwork.

     The jewelry they produce is distinct from the work of other American Indian jewelers. Their pieces are frequently dramatic and always wearable.  By seeking out stones of unusual color and surface pattern or pearls of various shapes and hues, then juxtaposing them in original compositions, they have created a unique style.  After years of visiting prehistoric pictograph and petroglyph sites, Gail and Yazzie realized that these ancient peoples had developed a distinctive set of designs, from which they have drawn much inspiration.  Over their career of more than three decades, Gail and Yazzie have developed a body of work that is both distinctly their own and continuously evolving."

-Martha Hopkins Struever

February 2006

Taken from the Foreward in the book Shared Images: The Innovative Jewelry of Yazzie Johnson and Gail Bird by Diana F. Pardue, Copyright 2007 the Heard Museum, published by Museum of New Mexico Press.

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