Ray Lovato is the undisputed master of traditional Santo Domingo hand rolled, natural turquoise heishi. For decades he has worked with the finest natural stones and created beautiful necklaces.
Nearly all of the current heishi makers at the Pueblo now use treated or stabilized stones. Many do wonderful work and the difficulty and cost of obtaining natural turquoise combined with the difficulty of working it, results in the use of treated stones being preferable.
3" Red Mountain and Fox Turquoise
There is nothing wrong with Santo Domingo jewelry being made with stabilized turquoise. The stones are real, they are just hardened with a polymer to make them harder and more durable.
The process is the same. The turquoise is cut into thin slabs, then into small pieces that are drilled in the center. The stones are strung on a thin wire and slowly ground down until the individual beads form a strand of turquoise, or shell or whatever material is being used. The skills necessary to cut, drill and grind the material can take years to master.
When an artist like Ray Lovato uses natural turquoise, it presents several challenges. First, he has to obtain the material. Most larger pieces of stone are cut into “cabs” (shaped stones that can be set in silver and gold jewelry). To obtain quality natural stones in large enough pieces can be
When you cut and polish natural turquoise, the chances of it cracking and breaking during the process are much higher. A lot of stone is wasted to get the final product.
Most people in the Indian jewelry business consider Ray to be a national treasure and we are lucky to have him. He was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam and has had to overcome many health problems.
About three weeks ago, we had a show in the gallery with an outstanding young silversmith, Jesse Robbins. Robbins and his family also own a small turquoise mine in Nevada and he is always looking for stones to use in his jewelry.
After our show, he asked me if I knew Ray Lovato. When I told him I did, he said, “I have some turquoise that I think he would love to have, but I don’t know how to get In touch with him.”
I offered to give Jesse directions to Ray’s house in Santo Domingo, but he said it would be August before he would be there. He pulled out a bag of absolutely wonderful Fox and Carico Lake turquoise stones that I knew Ray would flip over, so I offered to buy them from Jesse and take them down to sell to Ray.
Well, the deal is that you never really want to sell anything to Ray, what you want to do is to trade him for his work. Kris and I were headed to Albuquerque to take her to the airport the next day. On the way down, I called Ray.
"Ray, I’ve got some great turquoise you are going to want.”
“I’m in Albuquerque looking for used tires,” he said. “My wife says I can’t buy any more turquoise. I can tell you a lady that will buy it.”
I replied, “This is only turquoise for you. I’ll save it until you are ready.”
Ok,” he said. “Maybe around the Fourth of July. I will come by Durango on my way to Utah.” He does a jewelry show and sells oven bread in Utah every year on the Fourth and he always stops by on his way north.
"Think about it, I’m only in New Mexico today,” I told him.
34" Royston Turquoise
I put the phone down and waited. Dangling turquoise in front of Ray Lovato is like putting a big fat worm in front of a Brown Trout. Sure enough, about ten miles down the road, the phone rang.
“I’ll meet you in the Walmart parking lot,” he said and told me how to get there.
It was quite a sight. He and I were sitting in the shade of a tree on the curb, in front of our cars in the Walmart lot, with seven pounds of natural turquoise and dozens of his necklaces laying around. His daughter was laughing at the two old guys sitting on the ground!
As these things go, we told jokes, talked about politics and the former Governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson (he was the only candidate for governor that actually visited Santo Domingo to campaign) discussed the tires he was looking for, talked about the family and lots more.
At the beginning of the conversation, the turquoise I had brought down from Jesse “didn’t look too good.”
“Well, if you don’t want it, it’s ok,” I told him.
“No, I didn’t say that. Maybe we could trade a little.”
He showed me the different necklaces he had and, of course, I liked them all. But two stood out that I really liked. The stones were not as smoothly finished and the color was not all the same. The turquoise had a lot of matrix in it and it just had a depth and “tribal” sort of feeling.
Ray kept steering me away from, actually ignoring, these two strands. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and asked, as casually as possible, “What mine are these from?”
“Oh, those?” he asked. “Those are Cripple Creek, from Colorado.” Then he picked up a strand of Fox turquoise and asked, “I will give you this one.”
“Ray, I’m into this turquoise a lot, I have to have three of those,” I answered.
“How about I give you the Fox one and this one,” he pulled out a nice blue strand that was probably made from Pinto Valley Turquoise, I can’t remember.
“What if I just take the two Cripple Creek ones?”
36" Cripple Creek Turquoise
Ray looked at me and smiled and gave me those and a pair of earrings for Kris. He loaded up the turquoise and he and his daughter took off to finish the job of finding tires for his car.
What he knew and I knew is that from the moment he sat down and looked at Jesse’s turquoise, he wanted it. He also knew I wanted the Cripple Creek necklaces. We could have done the deal in about three minutes, but damn, we both had a great time and really, that is what it is all about.
I got to spend a hour in a parking lot with a guy that’s one of my heroes. It doesn’t get any better than that!
31" Cripple Creek Turquoise
So today, you get a chance to own the work of a Master! These strands of Cripple Creek turquoise are really unique, there is not a lot of that stone around and very little of it has ever been made into Santo Domingo jewelry.
They measure 35 inches and 31 inches in length and are priced at $2200 and $2000. They would go well together as a pair. So, $4,000.00 if you want the pair.
Be sure to look at Ray’s other works on our site!
I want to add a disclaimer here. Santo Domingo Pueblo is now known as Kewa Pueblo. The Tribal Council changed the name in 2009. I think it is great that they changed from the name given them by the Spanish Conquistadores to the original name. But, Ray always refers to it as Santo Domingo and when I’m talking about him, out of respect, so do I. No disrespect intended towards the Kewa Pueblo.
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