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Algerian-born jeweler blends North African, Hopi techniques

The jewelry of Eveli Sabatie bridges the sculpted symmetry of Charles Loloma with flowing rivers and Egyptian eyes.

“Eveli Sabatie: Between Worlds and Time” is showing at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe.

It all started at a Grateful Dead concert.

In 1968, the 28-year-old Sabatie moved from Paris to San Francisco, hoping to learn about Native American cultures. A chance rock ‘n’ roll encounter with Hopi traditionalist Thomas Banyacya led to an invitation to the Powamuya (Bean Dance) ceremony at Third Mesa on the Hopi Reservation.

“It made me feel at home completely because of the connection to the land,” the Algerian-born Sabatie said in a phone interview from her Tucson home. “I grew up in the desert. The connection to the earth really spoke to me.”

She met the legendary Loloma, the king of raised inlay, in a Hopi laundromat.

Eveli Sabatie grinding in her Santa Fe studio, around 1975. (Courtesy of Richard Smith)

Eveli Sabatie grinding in her Santa Fe studio, around 1975. (Courtesy of Richard Smith)

“I didn’t know anything about Loloma, who he was,” she said. “He seemed to be a fun person and very interested in people. He would ask me what I had done. He asked me would I like to learn to make jewelry. Of course, I said yes.”

Considered the father of contemporary Native American jewelry, Loloma used unconventional materials such as gold, pearls and diamonds, as well as architectural shapes, in his work. A recent edition of “Antiques Roadshow” valued two Loloma rings at $60,000.

Soon the great jeweler began expressing more than a professional attraction to Sabatie.

“I kept my distance” at first, she said, laughing. “He was pretty insistent. Then I fell in love with the whole man. He had been separated from (first wife) Otellie for a long time.”

She remained with Loloma from 1968 to 1972.

Raised in Morocco and schooled in Paris, Sabatie joined Loloma’s studio as his focus shifted from cast metal to mosaic inlay. She introduced him to Moroccan mosaics, their turquoise and lapis blues laid into the walls of mosques and fountains.

Sabatie fashioned her first piece of jewelry from beef bones she wrested from a dog. Then some friends gave her a deer skeleton they discovered on a Mill Valley, Calif., hike.

She was one of just two Loloma protegés; the other was his niece, Verma Nequatewa.

Necklace/pendant, two-strand turquoise disc necklace, silver and inlaid turquoise clasp. Silver pendant, turquoise,  coral and lapis mosaic by Eveli Sabatie.

Necklace/pendant, two-strand turquoise disc necklace, silver and inlaid turquoise clasp. Silver pendant, turquoise,
coral and lapis mosaic by Eveli Sabatie.

“It’s all very original,” Wheelwright curator Cheri Falkeinstien-Doyle said. “She doesn’t repeat herself at all.

“She has terrific visual intelligence,” Falkeinstien-Doyle continued. “She can see something and turn it around in her mind and make it jewelry.”

Sabatie learned by watching and listening as Loloma spun stories about the Hopi spiritual world. Realizing she needed more formal study, she returned to San Francisco for a soldering class.

“Then I was on fire,” she said. “Having a torch and seeing the metal melt, I got very excited. When I went back to Hopi, I made a ring for Charles and I could see that he really liked it.”

Her stonework spanned minerals from turquoise and coral to amethyst and abalone.

One bracelet features turquoise inlay carved into layers of tabs like petals. Turquoise and sugilite reeds nod across the back side of an 18-karat gold bracelet. A snake pendant curls and coils in fossilized ivory, citrine, lapis, silver and gold. Turquoise squares blanket a bracelet like a crazy quilt topped with a Cleopatra eye. Turn over a pendant of embracing figures to see their hands stamped on its silver back.

After her private Hopi tutelage, Sabatie moved to Santa Fe. Loloma gave her a bench, some silver and a handful of turquoise. She used bone until she could afford more expensive materials. She introduced herself to the neighborhood by distributing homemade bread, carrying the jewelry she hoped to sell in a paper bag.

“I had one tiny, little room that had everything — the kitchen, my bed and my bench.

“Stuff was coming out of me,” she continued. ” Some pieces were very north African, some were very Moorish, some were very Loloma-like.”

Bracelet, silver, inlaid coral, by Eveli Sabatie. (Courtesy of Neebinnaukzhik Southall/Heard Museum)

Bracelet, silver, inlaid coral, by Eveli Sabatie. (Courtesy of Neebinnaukzhik Southall/Heard Museum)

Soon she was booked into shows in Santa Fe and Taos, with an annual summer show at Santa Fe’s old Fenn Gallery.

She moved to Tucson in 1978.

“I wanted to be in a bigger town to see what it was like,” she said. “I wish I had stayed in Santa Fe. I love the climate in Santa Fe; I feel very good at higher elevations.”

She stopped making jewelry in the late 1990s as her eyes and wrists deteriorated. Now 76, she teaches yoga and Sanskrit from her former studio and makes a mean green chile stew.

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