Robert and Bernice Leekya
Robert and Bernice Leekya
1970 to Present
Classic Zuni Cluster to Unique Art Pieces
FIRST YEAR MAKING ART:
Robert and Bernice Leekya, How long have you been married?
Robert: We married February 15, 1953. It was during a Night Dance we met (Zuni humor).
Who are your parents?
Robert: My father Robert was Leekya Deyuse. He was a fetish carver.
Bernice: My parents were Warren & Doris Ondelacy. I had one sister, Alice Quam, and two brothers, Andy & William.
What do you remember of your parents from when you were young?
Robert: I can remember my father wanting to teach me how to carve stones. He tried to teach me but I told him I didn’t want to get dust all over me .
Bernice: It was in the 1930s when I can remember putting turquoise on sticks for my parents. That was my first introduction to jewelry making.
Do you make jewelry because of your parents?
Robert: They influenced us, we make it because of them. We do the work together, both of us will do silver and stone work. We began with cluster work and still do that on the side, but we found we liked to do big stone work better.
Who did you trade with when you first started making jewelry?
Robert: A trader by the name of John Kirk bought a lot of our pieces. He had a store on the North side of Gallup by the old Tobe Turpen Trading Post. He later moved to Albuquerque, but we still took him our work. He gave us a good price and was a real good person. He would give us Number Eight & Lone Mountain Turquoise to make cluster belts, we made hundreds of them.
Who else do you remember trading with?
Robert: We dealt with lots of traders, John Kennedy, Bill Burch, Tobe Turpen Sr. & Jr., Ernie Vanderwagen, and a few of the stores in the Zuni area.
Most of the Traders you mention are from Gallup. Why not more with Zuni dealers?
Robert: In the days when we first began Zuni did not get many tourists. After World War II it was very slow and did not pick up for a long time. Today the summers are busy in Zuni, but it is still better for us to sell in Gallup.
Both of your parents did lots of work for Zuni Trader C.G. Wallace. Do you have any of their work?
Robert: No, we do not have any of their work.
Zuni jewelry was first starting to be made in the Village around the 1900s, do you remember any training from when you were young?
Robert: Horace Iule use to teach silver making at the Day School. I can remember people using silver dollars and silver rollers to make their sheets.
Bernice: My mom learned from her neighbors. She first started making simple one row turquoise bracelets. Both of us learned from our parents.
Carving has been around much longer than silver work. Who did your father (Robert) learn from?
Robert: He taught himself. My father was the first in his family to carve. He taught Teddy Weahkee and Leo Pablano to carve. When I was young I remember going with my father to get stone close to Zuni for him to work on. Also, C.G. Wallace always had stone for him to work on.
Both of you are full time silversmiths. Do you see the tradition growing with the younger generations?
Robert: No, today they are not as interested. You have more kids leave to work off the Reservation now then you use to have. Also, in 1953 the first Zuni Firefighters traveled to fight fires, today many men wait for the siren to go and fight fires for their income. Other things too, materials cost more, more assistance from the government, and it is not taught in the schools.
Do you remember your favorite piece?
Robert: A buckle made for Tobe Turpen Sr., it was an inlay piece with Morenci.