Effie Calavaza is a Zuni Silversmith whose work has captured the hearts of many collectors. She was born in 1928 and started making jewelry in the 1950’s. She is still doing some silver work although she has passed her designs down to her daughters.
Several times each year, someone will come into the gallery and ask, “Do you have any of Effie’s work?” She is one of the few Zuni silversmiths that everyone in the business seems to know. She learned from her husband, Juan, and for many years they both signed their work “JUAN C. ZUNI. Juan died in 1970 and she began signing her work EFFIE C. ZUNI.
Some of the most talented Indian silversmiths come from the Zuni Pueblo, but few have gained her level of recognition. Her trademark is the silver snake curling around the turquoise and coral stones. The snakes always have inlaid eyes of those materials.
Back in the 1970’s when we were wholesaling a lot of Zuni Jewelry and traveling to gift shows in Los Angeles and Denver four times a year, her work was always the among our best selling pieces. The Indian jewelry boom of the late 1960’s and early 70’s created a really crazy time when many artists worked for speed rather than quality. Effie’s jewelry was always consistently well-made.We worked with a man named Kay Tinnin who had moved to Zuni after the Korean War and learned to speak the language fluently.
At first he worked for the Vanderwagon family as a buyer, but later went out on his own, buying jewelry in the village for Toh-Atin and the Godber family out of Scottsdale. He drove a small Volkswagen Bug and was a familiar site around the village. Those cars were amazing and would go through mud, snow, sand or an occasional pasture.
One day I went to the village to get jewelry from Kay and I was lucky enough to drive around with him, picking up orders. I met a lot of silversmiths that day but my favorites were Robert Leekya and Effie Calavaza. Robert because he was just so open and friendly about what he and his wife made and Effie because she was so darn nice. We went into her home, her husband had passed away a couple of years before, and she and Kay talked about the village and her family and mutual friends for over an hour. We ate tamales that were really good! That was a neat thing about the Zuni village, no one ever seemed like they were in a hurry! Sometimes they would talk in Zuni, but mostly it was English.
It was a good memory. Over the last year, we have acquired a really nice selection of her work from several different collections. All of these were made prior to 2000, according to the owners. You can see all of her work on our website.
She really is a legend in Zuni silversmithing!