Harry Morgan spent his life in and around Gallup, New
Mexico. He won awards at every major Indian art show. The year before he died there was an exhibit at the Heard Museum featuring several of his silver boxes.
Harry and I had a relationship that lasted 30 years. I first met him when my friend Buzz and I were driving to Houston to do a jewelry and Navajo rug show at a department store by the name of Sakowitz.
We stopped in Gallup to buy some concho belts as we’d heard they were a hot commodity among the fashion-conscious women of Texas. My father told me he had seen some jewelry by a smith named Harry Morgan and knew he had a shop in Gallup. I don’t remember how we found him, but Buzz and I stumbled into a shop where Harry had about a dozen silversmiths working for him.
We bought a few belts and had a nice conversation. He told us business was great and he was selling lots of jewelry, but he also said that he missed making it himself. As his jewelry sales grew, he spent more time running a business than making jewelry.
About eight years later, Harry drove to Durango and came by the Pepsi Cola Bottling Company where we had our showroom. He was a rancher and an avid horseman, and as always, he was wearing a western hat, his shirt was starched and ironed and there was an ironed crease down the front of his jeans. Harry always looked sharp. He told me he was buying some horses and wanted to sell some of his jewelry. He had closed his business when the Indian jewelry boom had waned, and he had a few pieces he had made himself. What he pulled out of the paper sack he was carrying was nothing like the belts we’d seen a couple of years before. This man was a master! I believe that he was one of the finest traditional Navajo smiths and his jewelry is among the best ever made.
Harry learned to silversmith at a young age and in 1965, after he graduated from high school, he began working with his uncles, Charlie Bitsui and Ike Wilson, two of the finest Navajo silversmiths. Both had many pieces in the famous C.G. Wallace collection, one of the great collections of Native American jewelry.
Harry could do all types of silver work, from sand casting to fabrication. He credited the time he spent watching his mother work for giving him an interest in jewelry.
His jewelry looks like it could have been made a century ago. The stamps that he decorated his work with were inherited from his parents and uncles or made by him. Much of his work was made with silver that he rolled himself. He only used the finest natural turquoise. He put a satin finish on every piece to give it an antique look.
“That’s the way old style jewelry should look,” he explained. “When silver is all shined up it hides all of the intricate detail in the stamp work and the bezels. This older style is what I grew up with and what I love.”
Three of his five children, Kelley, Greg and Jacob took up the art form before Harry died. Harry was pleased. As he put it, “I told them all to find something they love and stick with it and they all have. I’m glad that some of them have learned to silversmith.
“I get paid for doing what I love to do. That’s the best part of being a silversmith,” he often claimed.
Harry left a legacy of artistic dedication when he passed away from diabetes complications.
Early on, we’d see each other about once a year. From the late 90’s, when we began buying a lot of his jewelry, until about six months before he died, we saw each other about once a month. I’d meet him in Gallup or Albuquerque, or he’d drive to Durango. He was one of a kind.
This oval box is one of the prettiest pieces of his work that we ever had. It is set with beautiful deep red coral; the stamp work is beautiful, and the satin finish allows the detail to jump out at you. The box sits on four “legs” made of silver beads. It measures almost 3” tall, 4 1/2” side and 3 1/2” deep. A masterpiece crafted by an amazing artist.
I miss the thoughtful man with the twinkle in his eyes who was always excited about what he was doing, from breaking a new horse to creating a special piece of jewelry. I hope the person who buys this box really appreciates how special it is.