The Spoils of Santa Fe

It needs to be said: We go to Santa Fe to see the opera and not to buy jewelry. We’ve been going for the past nine years, during which time I have bought an absolute shitload of jewelry. Something comes over me in that rarefied air and preternaturally clear light: I become a woman possessed by turquoise, as though I didn’t have a bushel of it waiting for me at home. (I don’t travel with my jewelry, which is part of the problem. Bring a naked wrist to a place like Santa Fe and it won’t stay naked for long.) This year I was determined not to buy, or at least to refrain from buying everything in sight. Writing this blog has convinced me I already own enough jewelry for at least ten people.

1940s silver ring set with Blue Gem turquoise

All told, I think I did pretty well. Or at least I didn’t disgrace myself. With an addict’s logic, I fortified myself for my week of abstinence by buying a piece of jewelry—a large turquoise ring, right, that seemed to have the protective power of Wonder Woman’s Bracelets of Submission. The stone’s color leaped out at me from a case of vintage rings in a reputable galleryYou can buy it if it’s spectacular, I told myself. This is spectacular.

Laugh if you want, but it actually worked. With this huge amulet on my index finger, I was able to say no to everything that came my way. I had the pleasure of shopping with my travel companions without feeling the least bit obligated to buy—for about a day and a half.

Necklace of vintage Mexican Milagros (small metal religious charms) by Mercedes Isabel Velarde

The necklace above, however, was simply not to be walked away from. It’s composed of Milagros (literally: Miracles), the small metal charms traditionally worn in Latin American countries for protection and luck. Yes, those are crosses, Blessed Virgins and Sacred Hearts, religious amulets this Jewish girl has never allowed herself to wear until now. A believer would make a vow of some sort, then seal it with a pilgrimage to a shrine or church, leaving a Milagros medal behind. I’m not that sort of believer. My pilgrimage was to the gallery of Mercedes Isabel Velarde, an extraordinary painter and jewelry designer I connected with through my Mexican-Silver-dealer friend Kathi Jo.

Dia de los muertos skull cuff by Mercedes Velarde

Mercedes has created some truly extraordinary folkloric bracelets—I had purchased a couple via email earlier this year (that’s one at left). Meeting her in person was a delight. She’s warm and knowledgeable, and I love her sensibility. Hers was the only store in Santa Fe where I saw really good vintage Mexican silver. But I wanted something designed by her, and the Milagros necklace was It—though it has created a certain flurry of controversy among my next of kin.

And then? We went to the opera. Three operas, including a superb Don Giovanni in which the title character not only sang brilliantly but looked really good without a shirt. We also had the rare treat of seeing Puccini’s gorgeous cowboy opera, La Fanciulla del West, which ought to be produced a lot more than it is, for reasons I could write an entire post about. We had celebratory dinners; we enjoyed each other’s company. I continued not buying jewelry. Then: Blammo!

1970s cuff by the Navajo artist Richard Tsosie, in flower-and-leaf silverwork with Indian Mountain turquoise. This photo was taken in New York; the one at the top was taken in Santa Fe, in that amazing light.

I was visiting my friend Share at a gallery on Canyon Road. She directed me to a case of jewelry owned by a serious collector who had decided to sell most of her collection. And there, right in front, was the Navajo silver bracelet above and at the top of this post. It was incredibly girly—Cowgirly—with a slab of really good spiderweb turquoise. I had never seen, or aspired to own, anything like it. I had to have it. And I’m not sorry.

I might have bought this piece for the stone alone: rare Nevada turquoise from the tiny Indian Mountain mine, which hasn’t produced in decades. But I also love the silverwork—an early effort by an artist who no longer works in this style. It speaks so much of its time and place. As with everything I bought this trip, there’s a good deal of heart, soul and history in it.

…And then, on the last day of our visit, I had lunch with my friend Libby and bought more turquoise, rather a lot of it. But I think that will be another post.

3 thoughts on “The Spoils of Santa Fe

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