Frank & Elizabeth Vacit
In the 1940 Federal census Frank Vacit (25) was living in the household of Old Man Leekya, married to his eldest daughter Elizabeth (21). Leekya was the only member of the family listed as a silversmith. Frank gave his occupation as “unpaid family farm worker” and his income for the year $180. But under “other income” he checked “yes”. There is no explanation.
In the famous C. G. Wallace sale catalogue from 1975 there are only a couple of unremarkable pieces attributed to Frank. This is likely because of the Vacit’s friendship with Shirley and Pat Kelsey. At one time Shirley said they would sit at the kitchen table in the wee hours, discussing designs. One of the most eccentric of these is the goblet and serving tray that was part of the Druckman collection. The silver tubing used for the cups came from the Newcomb friend Gouverneur Morris.
Elizabeth Leekya Vacit never gets billing for the jewelry they made together, which is odd considering her family connection. Shirley Newcomb Kelsey knew them well and took a number of photos of them working at the same bench. She said that the couple always worked together. Many wives got no credit.
They made so many remarkable pieces it is hard to choose which ones to spotlight. One of Shirley’s photos shows Frank holding a fancy inlaid bit. This magnificent piece is pictured in color in the book, Bridles of the Americas Vol I. The Vacits probably used ancient pottery designs more than anyone else.
Frank liked to work outside the box. To make overlay inlay the artist has to saw out the design from a plate of silver. Tiny holes are drilled to accommodate the saw blade. Usually those holes are cut out with the design. One buckle leaves the holes visible with an almost invisible trail to the cutout.
Most dealers believe they can tell a Vacit piece at a glance, and that is probably more true than for any other Zuni jeweler. Though they never repeat the exact same designs, unlike lesser artists, the Vacit stonework is striking. They managed to get the reddest coral and the bluest turquoise of anyone, but it is a mystery where it came from.
The very style is distinctive. Not the designs, but the work itself. They did some of the most elaborate inlay ever. There is a chanelwork bow guard with two eagles that illustrates the point. No other artist did such dazzling work.