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The Edge

Artist Profile

Love Adorned W

hen I first met Lori Tapahonso in Lawrence, Kansas, I felt like we had known each other forever. We would have long conversations, and I would walk away seeing things in a different light, feeling happy and content. I recall seeing a pair of her beautiful earrings, and it called out to me. At the time, I was in college and had very little money, but I had to have them. I pulled out my quarters which were supposed to be used for laundry and bought them. To this day, they are still my favorite, and I feel amazing and beautiful in them like they were made just for me. That is what Tapahonso wants with each piece she makes. She said, “It’s important for my buyers to feel like their selection is as special and unique as they are.” Not only is her style exclusive, but she takes great pride in her creations. “Each piece is unique and one-of-a-kind and comes from my heart.” Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background I’m a mother, wife, daughter, sister, teacher, an actor, and an artist. My maternal clan is Salt Water. My paternal clan is Salt People and Acoma Pueblo Eagle Clan. My maternal grandfather is the Bitter Water clan. My paternal grandfather is the Mexican Clan and the Acoma Pueblo Eagle Clan. This is how I am known as a Navajo and Acoma Pueblo woman. We are a matrilineal society, so our mother’s clans are carried forward. This introduction is essential because it lets others know what my father’s and grandfather’s clans are and honors my family by allowing me to carry them with me in life. I currently live in the homelands of the Kalapuya people of the Pacific Northwest in Eugene, Oregon. I was born in Shiprock, New Mexico in the four corners region of the US. This is the place I will always call home and a place that influences my daily life and especially my art. I also called Lawrence, KS, home of Haskell Indian Nations University home for more than 25 years. My jewelry art was born there in 2012. How did you begin making your jewelry? 14 NATIVE MAX MAGAZINE | JULY/AUGUST 2019

It feels like it was so long ago, but it was only a mere seven years ago. My mother was doing some spring cleaning and gave me two plastic craft boxes filled with stones, beads, wires, clasps, and earring hooks. She said she hadn’t made jewelry in a long time and thought I might like to try. I later learned that my grandmother was also a jeweler. She made necklaces, earrings, and did some silver work. The boxes sat on a shelf for a few years before I ever opened them. Once I did, there was no turning back. I taught myself the basics with a lot of trial and error. I slowly increased my jewelry. If there was a look that I wanted to achieve, I’d find photos or videos online that would teach me. I’d work with a design until it matched what I imagined. From the beginning, I also found ways to reuse materials. My mom’s box of supplies had partially made pieces that I reused in my new pieces. That is still my style and method. Today, I make several pieces with recycled or repurposed antiques, broken jewelry, or one-sided earrings. Friends will give me bags of old jewelry to reuse. I find joy in making something old and unwanted into something new and alive again. My jewelry collections include earrings, necklaces, cuffs, and rings that offer a unique fusion of contemporary, bohemian, and modern from a Native perspective. By this, I mean that my work is always reminiscent of who I am, but also has mainstream flavor. I still use natural materials like turquoise stones, coral, jet, and shells, and will perhaps pair them with salvaged 1920’s jewelry that I turn into earrings. I find an exciting challenge in indigenizing the mainstream. Each piece is unique, and one-of-a-kind and comes from my heart. If I have requests to remake a piece, they will be similar, but still, have elements that make them slightly different. My buyers need to feel like their selection is as special and unique as they are.


Although Eugene, Oregon-based but Shiprock, New Mexico-born artist and jewelry designer Lori Tapahonso has been making jewelry for only seven years, the quality and craftsmanship of her pieces led us to believe she’s been designing for decades. Native Max writer Tree Mangan (Diné) talks with Tapahonso in this exclusive interview.

Who inspires your work, and what does it aim to say? I come from a family of creators. My whole

Profile for Native Max Magazine

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