Leonard Maloney was born and raised in the Twin Lakes area and had a traditional upbringing. His mother was Emma Tom who, he recalls, was good at all the traditional activities, even butchering sheep. And—she was a master jeweler. Of course she didn’t sign her pieces, and the family has not managed to keep her work.
Her major design was an squash that didn’t show the beads. She would make twelve “blossoms” on each side, and they completely covered the silver balls. His dad was from Tuba City, and his parents met in Earl’s Restaurant. Father worked all his life for the railroad until machines replaced all hand work. He told me Maloney Avenue was named for Jimmy Maloney.
Leonard didn’t start making jewelry until he was seventeen or eighteen. His grandfather made jewelry, but he was very secretive and wouldn’t let anyone watch him work. He learned basic technique from a Thoreau silver worker named Ron Martinez..
Martinez was an in-law and taught quite a few apprentices. Maloney says the all the Martinezes were taught by a man named Curt Smith.
Leonard uses the sand casting technique to create his concho belts and bolos. He prefers to buy a kind of casting sand from Thunderbird Supply. He is willing to pay more for this medium, finding out that the traditional mix of sand, cement and oil puts off dangerous fumes. He uses copper patterns.
He uses only scrap silver which he melts for casting. When he gets a plate of silver for a concho he still has a lot of finishing work to do. Though the cast piece shows the stamping, he has to re-stamp the whole thing for a clean look. Then he has to dome the pieces because they are all cast flat. He says he can make a finished concho belt in four hours.
When he was young he once turned out 25 belts at once, and then hung them around the hogan walls. He has many awards in spite of not liking to enter in shows, including a First at Ceremonial.
Of course he always continues to perfect his art. He now uses an overlay technique which gives his belts and bolos another layer and a more three dimensional look. He makes belts for both men and women. Sometimes he adds a single stone in the center of the conchos.
He still lives a short distance from where he was born. He intends to stay there in spite of the fact that family members have moved away. His immediate family has also scattered and one of his daughters lives in northern Idaho not far from the Canadian border.
These days his silver work is highly sought after and commands a decent price. At one time he got some great publicity when Calvin Cline put his belts on models which gave Maloney a visual format all over the country and Europe.