In the valley of the wolf where the fields lie fallow
and the rooster’s crow is the sun’s preamble
Beyond the reach of the sacred rock’s winged shadow, almost equidistant between the towns of Waterflow and Rattlesnake, sits Shiprock, New Mexico. Home of the Chieftains. Half an hour from the Four Corners Monument, where New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Colorado intersect like crosshairs on the American Southwest. The sacred rock, Tsé Bitʼaʼí (or Ship Rock, called thus because of its scalene resemblance to a 19th-century clipper ship), is a high-desert monadnock standing at 1,583 feet. This rock is ancient and sacred to the Navajo people, and juts from the desert floor like a volcanic cathedral. It is clearly visible from artist Francisco Bailon’s front yard.
“You can see it from my backyard, too,” he says.
Francisco grew up in Santo Domingo Pueblo, about 200 miles southeast of Shiprock, as the crow flies. “Since the Spanish [conquistadors] came in the 1600s and named our tribe, we recently reclaimed our original tribe name, Kewa. So it’s known as Kewa [Pueblo] now.”
His wife, Fannie, interjects: “The location of his village is right between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. And his people are about five to ten thousand. Very small.”
English is neither Francisco nor Fannie’s first language—Francisco’s is Keres, which, being a language isolate, has no discernable relationship to other languages, even those among its six neighboring pueblos. Fannie’s native language is Navajo.
“I advertised for a job,” she says. “This was back in the late ’70s. And, holy moly, this handsome man walks in and I hired him, and the rest is history.” She laughs. “I was his supervisor in the emergency room. He was an ER tech, an ambulance driver.”
Physically, Francisco Bailon is surrounded by a landscape both majestic and devoid—igneous rock, sand, cheatgrass brittle as old bone, arroyo, floodplain, Arches National Park to the northwest with its sunbaked spires like a key’s staggered teeth. Metaphysically, however, the true artist occupies that liminal space between inspiration and compulsion; like the rooster who’s compelled to crow, it’s in his blood. And crowing is, in fact, the rooster’s birdsong, his art.
“I learned at home,” he says, “making jewelry. I was quite young, and I saw my great-grandfathers doing handmade jewelry; we had an abundant supply of all that raw material. Since it was our only income, I helped my parents do jewelry. And then, in the summertime, we did farming. And hauling wood for the house, because we didn’t have no electricity or gas stoves. We had to burn wood. Our trade was shells and turquoise.
“Then, after 25 years of service [as a journeyman machinist with the Los Alamos National Laboratory], I tried to return to making jewelry, but I found that the raw materials were outsourced overseas. So we couldn’t get them anymore.” The demand for turquoise used in “Native-style” accessories produced by non-Native people is another discussion altogether, and a thorny one (see, e.g., the turquoise cuff bracelets under tempered glass at Neiman Marcus, which go for about $80,000 apiece). Suffice to say that examples of this misrepresentation can volley between cultural appropriation and downright colonization (not to mention illegal, depending on the degree of mimicry, under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act (Act) of 1990 (P.L. 101-644)).
“So,” Francisco says, “I just detoured and started doing fashion beadwork.”
Francisco Bailon, then, is just a regular guy—hauling wood, repairing his home’s plumbing, which “went out over Christmas”—but a regular guy with brilliance running through him like vein copper through stone.
“I started my business, Anasazi Jeweler, in the fall of 2016,” he says. “And I started making earrings, bracelets, necklaces and hatbands on the loom and peyote stitch. I prefer size 13 cut beads. They’re expensive and in limited supply. But the most rare are size 15s, which are 1.7mm, or 54 thousandths of an inch. I designed Jacques’s glasses with size 15s.”
Francisco refers here to the Last Frontier, a special limited-edition collection in collaboration with luxury eyewear designer Jacques Marie Mage. Like the items provided by Anasazi Jeweler—dazzlingly intricate and one-of-a-kind pieces with names like Morning Prism, Twin Rivers and Santa Fe—the Last Frontier collection “seeks to achieve new heights of craftsmanship and artistry.” In other words, every frame, with exquisite details like sterling silver thunderbirds, real Kingman turquoise inlays and Francisco’s signature beadwork, is more than a collector’s item; it’s an heirloom, crafted with surgical precision.
“My beadwork does the speaking for me,” he says, bent to his meditative toil. “As my great-grandfather used to say, ‘Think in harmony, speak in harmony, and therefore walk in harmony. Your endeavors will be blessed to have abundant life.’”
Written by Andrew Stark
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