Published on June 17, 2013 by Amy
Dennis was born on January 24, 1931 in Zuni, New Mexico of the Parrot clan. Nancy was born on February 4, 1937 in Zuni, New Mexico of the Frog clan. They are among the “Old Masters” of the Fine Art of stone-to-stone inlay. Their exquisite workmanship with not only precious gemstones but with gold and silver as well is among the best of all time.
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At the age of 14 in 1945, Dennis used to help his sister glue stones to pieces of LP record albums for Bernard Vanderwagon Trading Post. There were no silver plates around in1945, so stone setting was the only income they had.
Dennis and Nancy were married on October 28, 1954. Their career started by accident when the truck stop in Gallup, New Mexico, where Dennis was working for $1.10 per hour, was by-passed by I-40. It was devastating at the time for Dennis, so he returned home to Zuni, and “just sat down and tried it” at the silversmithing bench. “I used to watch my dad,” he said, “but otherwise, it just came naturally. No one ever taught me or trained me in how to use a torch or how to cut shell.” In 1962 Dennis made his first inlay thunderbird bola, in the shape of a shield all in sterling silver.
In 1964, Leon and Ruth Ingraham, who were in business with the Edaakies by purchasing all of their traditional inlay work, wanted something new and innovative. That is when the Ingrahams changed the family’s life forever. They asked Dennis to make a cardinal on a pin pendant. He drew the cardinal freehand and used a piece of red coral for the inlay. Once it was finished the Ingrahams were flabbergasted. It was entered in the 1964 ceremonial and won first prize. Leon asked Dennis, “Do you think you can make other birds like this one?” So they started making Blue Jays, Hummingbirds, Roadrunners, Eagles, and Quails just to name a few. In 1965 Leon and Ruth once again asked them to make something original. They had an idea about a two-sided pendant, like maybe a hummingbird on one side and an apple blossom on the other. Dennis and Nancy came up with a pendant that swiveled. It was called the reversible pendant.
It was Leon and Ruth Ingraham who made “The Birdman and Ladybird”, Dennis and Nancy Edaakie famous.
Once and awhile resident artists will remind Dennis that he is making copies of his uncles work, Jacob Haloo. Although Dennis and Jacob both make birds, they had there own distinct styles. Jacob’s was geared towards a more traditional style, cut outs of Traditional Pottery Bird Designs, The Knifewing Man, The Sunface, and The Rainbow Man. Dennis’s birds are more like illustrations from a book, a more detailed style.
There is a gallery called Kashari (the Hopi clown) in Scottsdale where the Edaakies had a show. The owner asked Dennis if he could make a Kashari bola and a pin pendant, like the one on the gallery logo. He wasn’t sure he could make one, but he tried it and it came out rather nice. They are the originators of the Hopi clown on silver and gold.
“In the silver or gold, I do the inlay and underlay. I cut out the bird design in the top piece of metal, then inlay the stone or shell and use a solid sheet of metal for the back of a nonreversible pin, pendant, bola, or whatever.
My wife, Nancy does the branches, leaves, and flowers in the designs; I do the birds. Our daughters help their mother set her stones; our three sons help me on the sanding and buffing machines. Sometimes I look in bird books to make sure a design is right; mostly, though, ideas come from personal observation…you know, just bird-watching.”