SANTA FE, N.M. — It was around this time last year that Farrell Pacheco started working on his show pieces for his first Santa Fe Indian Market.
For months, the mosaic inlay jewelry-maker from Kewa Pueblo – the former Santo Domingo Pueblo – wouldn’t let his family see what he was working on.
“Every time they walked in there, I would hide it,” Pacheco said.
The finished product was a large, traditional-style necklace made with Castle Dome and Sleeping Beauty turquoise, spiny oyster shell and a large concentration of heishi bead strands (from olive shell, a marine snail) in the center. Mosaic sections are inlaid onto deer and bison bone. On the sides and at the bottom of the necklace, spiny oyster shell pieces fan out from turquoise beads.
“This represents the eagle,” he said, pointing to the flared shells at the bottom of the necklace. “When it flies, it spreads its tail.”
And the hard work paid off. Just before Indian Market in August, Farrell and his wife Rey were driving when he received a call from Ira Wilson, head of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts – which puts on Indian Market – telling him to attend the Best of Show luncheon. He was not sure what he had won, but his name was called for the Best of Classification for jewelry, one of the market’s top honors.
“Then, I couldn’t say nothing,” he said. “I was just in shock.”
“I screamed,” his wife and jewelry-making partner, Rey, recalled.
She’s a jeweler, too, and has been showing in Indian Market since 2010. “Any person, a wife, a significant other, anybody, you always want the best for the person who you’re with,” she said.
Her thoughts were “one, amazement of, ‘Oh my god, Farrell, this is your first show and you came in (with a win). Two, amazement of ‘Oh my God, your hard work, all those months of you hiding this piece from me, and it brought home the cheese.’ I couldn’t do anything but scream. I was just so proud of him. I’ve always felt proud of him, but it took it a step further.”
Though they tried to sell the big prize-winner at first, Farrell said it now belongs to their two daughters, Jasmine and Jocelyn.
Rey said it felt like a sign that a few deals to sell it didn’t come to fruition.
“It’s one of those pieces that you’ve got to keep for the family,” she said. “Eventually, they’re going to grow up and they’re going to wear it. They’re going to dance. Since we’ve gone through two shows and it didn’t go anywhere, we figured it wants to stay home with us.”
A mix of old and new
This weekend, the Pachecos will be at SWAIA’s Winter Market, its annual holiday market held at Santa Fe’s La Fonda Hotel. Though it’s just Farrell’s name on the program, the couple will be there showing together. Many of the earring sets, he said, are the result of the couple’s collaborative process.
For Winter Market, Rey said they will bring a collection of both contemporary and traditional pieces. Farrell added that most of what they will be selling is smaller-scale items.
During a recent visit by a Journal crew to their home on the pueblo, Farrell and Rey showed off a variety of their work, including a large traditional Kewa “jacla” necklace that Farrell made with mother of pearl shell, turquoise and spiny oyster that he said is something that would be worn when dancing or singing at a pueblo event.
He said the necklace symbolizes a cloud with pearl shell at the top; the turquoise strung at the bottom represents rain; and a small bit of spiny oyster shell below that represents corn growing.
Though this past August was his first Indian Market, Farrell is no newcomer to making jewelry. It has been the couple’s full-time job for the past five years. The high school sweethearts – Farrell is 35 and Rey is 36 – reunited a few years ago when Rey was living in Albuquerque with her uncle, award-winning jewelry-maker Martine Lovato.
She learned her uncle’s style of mosaic inlay about 10 years ago and when Farrell and she got back together, he took to the trade, as well. Farrell said he’d helped his grandfather make heishi jewelry when he was young.
When he started learning inlay, Farrell was working in remodeling, tiling and wood flooring. Rey said she had worked in retail.
Farrell also had jobs in construction and asphalt paving. But after hurting his back catching his daughter jumping off the bed, heavy equipment became too hard to operate and jewelry-making took over.
Farrell said he applied for Indian Market this year because the couple’s teacher, Lovato, finally recommended that he should. He’d waited for this approval out of respect, something Rey said she did, as well.
The couple said their jewelry adheres to Lovato’s style, which means making their mosaic-style items from clipping raw material like turquoise into irregular pieces, unlike other inlay artists who often cut their materials to specific shapes and sizes, and then inlay them to fit and match exactly.
“It’s not a specific cut-out piece,” Rey said of their materials. “We don’t cut them to be one size, one shape. We cut it out not to mirror each other. I like to tell people it’s imperfection, the way we inlay, because not one piece is identical.”
She also said that the couple follows Lovato’s style of precision, in which the pieces go through the double-sander and grinder for smoothness. When completed, she said people often cannot tell the piece was made from stone.
“People often mistake it for paintwork, because you can’t feel much of the texture,” she said.
The three artists now live together at Kewa Pubelo, along with the couple’s daughters, and work under the same roof. Both husband and wife said they enjoy having a job that they are able to do together on their own schedule. Farrell said this allows them to stay more active in the pueblo and with their daughters’ school.
“With this career, it helps us be together as a family,” said Rey. “It helps us do things together. We feel the hardship, we feel the glory of when you have a good show. It’s never a steady pace, it always fluctuates.”
“We can’t get fired,” Farrell said with a laugh.
Though they make their big showpieces separately, Rey said that when the couple is getting ready for a big market, they have a system. She takes on “step one,” laying out and then gluing the inlay materials onto a base. The inlay can be placed on a variety of materials: bones, which Farrell often harvests from hunting trips; oak; spiny oyster; penshell; and more. They cover the piece with a grout-like material made from charcoal, which comes off the top of the stone when it goes to the workshop.
“Step two is heavy machinery, which is him,” Rey said. Machines for stone grinding, sanding and polishing the pieces are in the workshop adjacent to their home.
A ‘getting to know us stage’
After Farrell won his award, he said, many people from the pueblo came up to him and told him they didn’t even know he made jewelry. He describes himself as a shy guy.
“I’ll participate in dances and stuff like that, but I wouldn’t walk around going like … .”
“He didn’t really showcase what he was doing,” Rey finished.
The couple mostly sells their jewelry at local shows or powwows and sometimes at the prestigious Heard Museum in Phoenix. Their work is carried in one local store, the Plata de Santa Fe Jewelry.
Rey says the couple is now in a “getting to know us stage” with the general public.
Since the August Indian Market, the Pachecos said they have been invited to show at markets in Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas. Farrell said they also gained the attention of shop buyers, but Rey said their inventory isn’t large enough for big stores yet. She added that they prefer selling directly to their customers through the shows.
Standing in his workshop, Farrell said he was taught never to work when he is angry or sad. He must think happy thoughts when he’s working because “breath,” “sweat” and “body” is put into the couple’s creations.
“It will sell faster and people like the piece because of the way you are feeling,” he said. “The way you are feeling when you’re touching the piece, every turquoise you set, it’s creating something not for you, but for somebody that wants to keep your artwork.”
Farrell went on to say a main driver for making his jewelry is the look on the faces of buyers, or even within his family, when he shows a new creation. He said it makes him believe he can try more complicated designs.
“That’s what I love to see on everyone’s face, just the expression, ‘You made this? You made this?’ ”
Correction: The event information box was been updated to indicate tickets for tonight’s opening celebration can be purchased at the door