Virgil Benn

Virgil Benn

Perry Null Trading

When did you and your wife begin making jewelry?

Virgil Benn

In the late 1960s.

Perry Null Trading

What style of work did you first start to make?

Virgil Benn

We have always done the channel inlay work. We are the first to use the etching in our work, which gives our pieces a life like look. In the beginning we did mostly animals, but over the years we have done everything you can think of. I have even done a bull and bronc rider.

Perry Null Trading

Did you start to make different things on your own, or did you get orders?

Virgil Benn

A trader by the name of Micky Vanderwagen use to buy lots of stuff from us. He was the one that really encouraged us to make many different types. His place was down in Zuni.

Perry Null Trading

Was your work real popular in the 1960s?

Virgil Benn

It was a new style with the etching, and it didn’t really get recognized until the early 1970s. A trader by the name of Leon Ingram started to buy all the jewelry we made. He recognized the quality and uniqueness of our pieces and kept asking for more of our work. His store was close to the old Post Office in Gallup.

Perry Null Trading

Have you ever done Indian Market or the Heard shows?

Virgil Benn

We have never done either of those shows. Maybe it would have been different for us if we had done them.

Perry Null Trading

I imagine every collector knows your work. What do you mean different?

Virgil Benn

Once Micky Vanderwagen had a journalist from Arizona Highways in his store in 1974. He wanted to feature our work in the magazine and take the photos of our work. However, Micky was not sure if that would be alright with us so he told him he would have to ask us first. That would have really helped us get more recognized.

Perry Null Trading

Who were your teachers?

Virgil Benn

My wife and I are self taught. It always came easy to me and I really liked making the pieces.

Perry Null Trading

Did you know many of the early famous Zuni inlayers?

Virgil Benn

I knew a few. Shirley’s mother Daisy Hooee was married to Leo Poblano. Her mother was an excellent inlayer and was one of the early master inlayers. She did lots of work for C.G. Wallace.

Perry Null Trading

So your wife is Hopi?

Virgil Benn

She was from Daisy’s first marriage, which was to a Tewa. It wasn’t until her mother married Leo that she moved to Zuni.

Perry Null Trading

Is Tewa different than Hopi?

Virgil Benn

Tewa is a different tribe. Some of them helped the Hopi against the Navajo and they let them stay on First Mesa. Half of Polacca is Tewa the other half Hopi, but the Tewa are able to enroll in the Hopi Tribe.

Perry Null Trading

What is ahead for you and your wife?

Virgil Benn

We have slowed down some and just plan to make more jewelry.

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