The Western Aesthetic: Bolo Ties in the IARC Collection
The West is not a place; it is a state of mind.
—Jack Weil, founder of Rockmount Ranch Wear
When it comes to men’s fashion, the bolo tie carries a whiff of the American West. Braided into its leather cords are assumptions of masculine freedom, rugged individualism, the bucking of convention. These “cowboy neckties,” which gained popularity in the 1950s by countering business suits and formal menswear, ultimately marked a dressed-down style and casual way of life. As cowboy films and country music swelled the American market, consumers sought out Western jewelry and accessories to dress for the nostalgic trend. Since then, bolo ties have waxed and waned in the fashion world, worn by Rockabilly and New Wave bands in the 1980s; celebrity figures like Bill Murray and Johnny Depp; and, more recently, urban male and female millennials from New York City to Tokyo, Japan.
Yet the history of the bolo tie, rooted in Native American artistry and innovation, is too frequently overshadowed by mythologies of the West. Credit is often given to those who filed the first patents, not those who fashioned the first designs based on scarf slides and tribal neck ornaments. Pueblo and Diné artists weren’t just responding to tourist trends in the early to mid-twentieth century: they were repurposing materials, restructuring designs, and reimagining Western style.
The Indian Arts Research Center (IARC) is proud to steward a unique collection of bolo ties, dating from the 1950s onward. This online exhibition includes the works of Pueblo and Diné artists, highlighting the diverse jewelry-making practices within and between Native American tribes. While the subsections of this exhibit are delineated by jewelry technique—channel work, mosaic work, overlay work, and other three-dimensional work—many artists have combined and blended these methods, personalizing their design processes.
As luxury brands like Prada and Versace step into the burgeoning bolo tie market, it’s important to pay homage to these Native artists. They laid the foundation years ago and crafted, by hand, a Western aesthetic that’s still wrapping around our world.
Curated by Emily Santhanam (Chickasaw), 2020–2021 Anne Ray intern.
Organized by the Indian Arts Research Center at the School for Advanced Research.
 The Rockmount Ranch Wear Mfg. Company was founded in 1946 and was one of the first companies to produce bolo ties commercially.
Nearly every channel-worked bolo tie in this exhibition was crafted by a Zuni artist, which speaks to their community’s early mastery of the technique. In channel work, artists use strips of metal to hold stones in place. The channels are often made first, after which stones are carefully measured, cut, and shaped to fit between the channels. This work became popular among Zuni jewelers by the mid-1920s, and was later incorporated into the artistry of jewelers and lapidaries across Southwestern Native tribes. Stones can be inlaid flat, raised, or in a three-dimensional format, depending on the artist’s design and intent.
How Native artists approached their work, including bolo ties, was influenced by shifts in the tourist market throughout the twentieth century. Non-Native trading post and souvenir shop owners often asked artists to incorporate stereotypical “Indian designs”—thunderbirds, crossed arrows, and katsina spirits, for example—into their jewelry to better cater to tourists. While some artists did, many others developed their own signature motifs and styles. This selection of channel-worked bolo ties includes a diversity of designs, including animals, symbolic figures, and dancers, while also showcasing variations in bolo tie tips and slide adornments.
Artist unknown. Bolo tie, c. 1960. Silver, turquoise, tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl, white clamshell, spiny oyster, plastic, aluminum, leather. SAR.1989-7-217. Photo by Addison Doty.
Member of Quam family. Bolo tie, c. 1960. Silver, mother-of-pearl, turquoise, jet, coral, leather. SAR.1989-7-170. Photo by Addison Doty.
Herbert E. Cellicion. Bolo tie, 1998. Silver, gold lip mother-of-pearl, turquoise, coral, jet, tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl, leather. SAR.2010-2-15. Photo by Addison Doty.
Nancy and Ruddell Laconsello. Bolo tie, 1997. Silver, turquoise, coral, mother-of-pearl, jet, melon shell, leather. SAR.1997-1-6. Photo by Addison Doty.
Dixon Shebola. Bolo tie, c. 1950. Mother-of-pearl, turquoise, coral, mussel shell, jet, silver, plastic aluminum, leather. SAR.1989-7-178A. Photo by Addison Doty.
Deborah Gasper. Bolo tie, c. 1953–2000. Silver, turquoise, jet, coral, pen shell, malachite, leather. SAR.2000-1-1. Photo by Addison Doty.
Artist unknown. Bolo tie, c. 1960. Silver, abalone shell, turquoise, mussel shell, jet, gold lip mother-of-pearl, leather. SAR.1988-6-9. Photo by Addison Doty.
Artist unknown. Bolo tie, c. 1965. Antler, tortoiseshell, coral, turquoise, jet, silver, leather. SAR.1988-6-12. Photo by Addison Doty.
Jay Iule. Bolo tie, c. 1953–1970. Silver, melon shell, coral, cowry shell, mother-of-pearl, turquoise, tortoiseshell, leather. SAR.2000-1-5. Photo by Addison Doty.
Artist unknown. Bolo tie, c. 1960. Silver, jet, turquoise, coral, abalone, tortoiseshell, cowrie shell, leather. SAR.1989-7-193. Photo by Addison Doty.
The tradition of creating mosaic patterns on stone, shell, or wood is centuries old in the Southwest. Native artists reworked this technique and applied it to silverwork in the early twentieth century, crafting jewelry with colorful mosaic stone patterns inlaid into silver. As with channel work, Zuni lapidaries have refined this jewelry technique and are well-known for their mosaic pieces. Santo Domingo jewelers are also respected for their artistry in this field, specifically in their use of shell.
One unusual piece in the IARC collection is a Santo Domingo shell bolo tie with mosaic inlay (SAR.2000-1-4). While the style itself is a trademark of Santa Domingo jewelry, it does not often appear on bolo ties. It is possible that a Santo Domingo jeweler completed the shell and silver setting, after which Navajo silversmith Ella Cowboy formed the work into a bolo tie slide. Instances of cross-tribal adaptations, appropriations, and innovations can be seen within many of the exhibited works.
C.H. Bolo tie, c. 1953–2000. Silver, mother-of-pearl, pipestone, jet, turquoise, leather. SAR.2000-1-2. Photo by Addison Doty.
Artist unknown. Bolo tie, c. 1965. Coral, abalone, mother-of-pearl, antler, white mussel shell, turquoise, spiny oyster, silver, leather. SAR.1988-6-11. Photo by Addison Doty.
Beverly Etsate. Bolo tie, c. 1990. Silver, turquoise, jet, mother-of-pearl, gold lip mother-of-pearl, coral, leather. SAR.2010-7-1. Photo by Addison Doty.
Artist unknown (Ella Cowboy?). Bolo tie, c. 1953–2000. Silver, shell, jet, mother-of-pearl, turquoise, leather. SAR.2000-1-4. Photo by Addison Doty.
While jewelry styles are constantly being reworked by tribal artists, the silver overlay technique dates to the 1940s and is strongly rooted in the Hopi community. In this jewelry process, two pieces of metal are soldered together after a design has been cut from the top layer. The artist then adds texture to the bottom layer where the design is still visible, sometimes oxidizing or blackening this area for a contrasting effect. After the Hopi Silvercraft Cooperative Guild was formed in 1949, and the Native-run Hopicrafts Shop was developed in 1961, Hopi silverwork became a coveted and marketable Southwestern jewelry style.
Even so, Hopi artists and silversmiths are not a monolithic community. Consider the differences between Lawrence Saufkie’s dance figure (IAF.S861) and Duane Maktima’s geometric designs (SAR.1989-7-177AB). While both bolo ties utilize the overlay method, their respective shapes and materials are distinct. Maktima incorporates inlay alongside overlay, using turquoise, mother-of-pearl, ironwood, and coral to accentuate his design. His bolo tie’s tips are inlaid with stone, while Saufkie’s are pointed in full silver. As masters of the craft, the artists on exhibit frequently manipulate jewelry techniques to personalize their works.
Duane Maktima (Hopi/Laguna), a respected silversmith and jewelry artist, created this bolo tie and belt buckle set (SAR.1989-7-177AB) in 1974 while studying as an artist-in-residence at the Museum of Northern Arizona. He still has the original sketches of this design, which blended Native American artistic traditions and contemporary shapes. Years later, Maktima recalls the artworks in the museum that influenced his work:
I remember seeing a painting of this one priest katsina, a medicine katsina, who has this certain motif that he represents. He was carrying this staff, and the design on the staff inspired the designs on my piece. That’s what the marks looked like: it had something to do with his medicine. And the shape [of the bolo tie] is elongated, because I like the sense of incorporating something old with a modern design and shape.
Duane Maktima. Bolo tie, 1974. Silver, turquoise, gold lip mother-of-pearl, ironwood, coral, leather. SAR.1989-7-177AB. Photo by Addison Doty.
SCULPTURAL AND OTHER THREE-DIMENSIONAL WORK
In the classification of jewelry, delineating by technique can sometimes be limiting at best, exclusionary at worst. Artists rarely limit themselves to one defined method, preferring instead to test out various mediums, materials, and designs. With bolo ties in particular, Pueblo and Diné artists learned to repurpose older pendants and established techniques, while also experimenting in new aesthetics.
Louis Naranjo used clay to form the turtle slider on his tie (SAR.1989-7-174); Leekya Deyuse, known for his small stone carvings, incorporated a carved abalone figure onto his slider (SAR.1989-7-187); Philip Long crafted silver katsina figures for his jewelry set, rooting the work in tourist marketability (SAR.1989-7-153); while an unidentified Native American artist pushed beyond assumptions of “Indian design” to craft a contemporary slider in the 1960s (SAR.1988-6-14).
Taken together, these bolo ties from the IARC collection highlight the artistic diversity within this medium, broadening the conversation around how Native jewelers contributed to, and continue to define, our understanding of a Western aesthetic.
Artist unknown (Preston Monongye or Charles Loloma?). Bolo tie, 1960–1965. Silver, turquoise, coral, leather. SAR.1988-6-14. Photo by Addison Doty.
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