78 years is a long time, it is pretty much the life expectancy for a US citizen. Navajo silver making is thought to have been around the last 160 years, two lives. Lots of things have happened between the mid 1800s and 2011. We have gone from the horse pulled wagon to our hybrid four-wheel drive SUVs, the telegraph to video chat, digging a hole outdoors to indoor plumbing, but turquoise and silver is still pretty much the same.
Zuni Indian Trader C.G. Wallace was instrumental in the development of the Zuni jewelry market. He concentrated on quality and style, two attributes that today’s top Zuni artists continue. C.G. Wallace is more famous today than when he was a Trader, that is because of his famous 1975 auction that introduced many to the fabulous world of Zuni lapidary art. You can find websites dedicated to the C.G. Wallace artists and the collection that was offered in the auction, even the prices paid.
A couple of names standout among the C.G. Wallace artists. However, one of them you could argue is the most prolific, and maybe C.G. Wallace’s favorite, Leekya Deyuse. The Sotheby’s auction catalog is filled with art by this famous artist and displays some incredible photographs of his work. After the auction was over C.G. Wallace took the pieces that didn’t sell and offered them to collectors and dealers that didn’t make the 3-day event.
Perry Null was fairly new to the Indian art world in the mid 1970s, but seasoned enough to know when he was being offered something unique and valuable. He acquired this large carved and inlay butterfly from C.G. Wallace and put it away in his vault. The butterfly had already been sitting on the material covered cardboard for 40 years, more time wasn’t going to make it any less desirable, and Perry knew you just didn’t make anything out of the Leekya Deyuse butterfly.
Navajo artist Thomas Curtis Sr. started making jewelry in the 1950s. He would split time between hammering sterling silver and chasing the trophy buckle on the rodeo circuit. In the 1970's Perry and Thomas began a working relationship that would eventually turn into a valued friendship. Perry had several boxes made by Thomas and even some award-winning spurs. Thomas had made a reputation for himself by assembling museum quality silver pieces, and eventually the two, Perry and Thomas, would work together on maybe their most important piece.
Fashioning the Leekya Deyuse Butterfly into an Intricate Silver Box
The Leekya Deyuse butterfly stayed glued to the cardboard displaying its magnificent beauty for 78 long years. Thomas Curtis wasn’t even born yet when Leekya carved this spectacular piece. Perry and Thomas started to talk about making this box probably 6 months before they made the agreement to go forward with the project. Both of them had doubts, Perry whether such a valuable Leekya Deyuse carving should even be handled after so many years have passed, and Thomas on how to make such a big complicated box.
Now that the project is done and the box sits in front of us here at Perry Null Trading Company we can’t imagine the butterfly on anything else. You don’t know whether to put it out for sale or keep it for another 78 years for all of us Native American art enthusiast to admire and enjoy.