Interview with Lee Charley, silversmith
Perry Null Trading:

Lets talk family, your wife?

Lee Charley:

Her name is Karen, it is Calvin Martinez’s younger sister.

Perry Null Trading:

I knew you were related somehow to him, do you have lots of relatives that do silver work?

Lee Charley:

My brother is Ernest Rangel, and you know that their are lots of brothers and sisters to Calvin. Other than that, no, just lots of silversmiths that I know and have a good relationship with.

Perry Null Trading:

Where did you grow up?

Lee Charley:

Thoreau, I graduated from high school there in 1987.

Perry Null Trading:

Did you play any sports?

Lee Charley:

I played basketball.

Perry Null Trading:

What position and was your team any good?

Lee Charley:

I am 5’ 8” and played center and forward, so not your traditional size basketball team. We did ok, 2nd or 3rd place in district while I was in high school.

Perry Null Trading:

How about children?

Lee Charley:

I have three girls and 1 boy.

Perry Null Trading:

Are any of them going to follow in your footsteps?

Lee Charley:

My oldest daughter, Mykaiah who is eleven won a blue ribbon in last years (2010) Inter-Tribal Ceremonial for a piece of 3D art she made using a box and paper. They didn’t have a category for her work, something they had never had before, so it was the first year. My son Matthew is going to school at UNM and makes pieces when he has time, probably around 20 pieces now.

Perry Null Trading:

How did Matthew get involved in silver?

Lee Charley:

A couple of years ago he started helping me in the shop. He would do stuff like cutting out, buffing, and adding drops when I needed help. Now he tries to make his own style, not wanting to do the work in my style.

Perry Null Trading:

When did you start making jewelry?

Lee Charley:

In 1984 I started helping my mom, Nellie Charley. She was a piece worker and would do work for Thunderbird. She would get orders like 200 bracelets at a time and I would help her.

Perry Null Trading:

What would you do for her?

Lee Charley:

I was like Matthew, would help her cutout, buff, and whatever else she needed me to do.

Perry Null Trading:

So, it was your mother who taught you how to make silver?

Lee Charley:

Yeah, she taught me what I know. When I first went out on my own, about 9 years after beginning with my mom, the jewelry I made had lots of her style in my work.

Perry Null Trading:

What is the hardest thing to learn?

Lee Charley:

Soldering. It is because it is all by eye, you don’t know the temperature. If your silver is to hot you will just melt the solder and the other design of the piece. If it is not hot enough you get large clumps of solder on your work. It is all by trial and error.

Perry Null Trading:

Once you went out on your own,who were your first buyers?

Lee Charley:

I would go out on the road and sell in places like Taos and even make the trip to see Bill Malone at Hubbell’s Trading Post, those were my first buyers.

Perry Null Trading:

What was your early signature piece?

Lee Charley:

I did lots of ranger buckles, all silver and cluster.

Perry Null Trading:

I always think of you making really different stuff, like a flashlight, airplanes, just stuff you don’t expect to see in silver, what is the inspiration there?

Lee Charley:

I just want to make something different, things you don’t see. My favorite things are the large bugs I make, I have lots of fun doing those.

Perry Null Trading:

Has the current high price of silver changed what you do?

Lee Charley:

Yeah, I don’t make many big pieces. Over the last couple of years things tripled in cost.

Perry Null Trading:

Thanks.


Available art from: Charley, Lee